Paul 2. First Corinthians : Everyone is gifted

Saint Paul: Andrei Rublev

Everyone is needed fora vibrant church to carry out Jesus' mission in the world

49AD 'Paul chose Silas to accompany him … He tyravelled through Syria and Cilicia, consolidating the churches … to Derbe … Lystra (Timothy joins them) … through Phrygia and the Galatian country … and came down to Troas'(Acts 15:40 - 16:8).

map 1

'We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi'(Acts 16:11). 'on to Thessalonica'(Acts 17:1). 'from Bewroea to Athens'(Acts 17:15). 'Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

map 2

50-51AD Two Letters from Corinth to the community in Thessalonica

51AD 'Paul sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila … When they reached Ephesus he left them'(Acts 18:18-19).

52-55AD Ephesus 'Paul set sail from Ephesus, landed at Caesarea and went up to Jerusalem … and then down to Antioch. After spending some time there, he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia … and came to Ephesus … Paul spoke in the synagogue for three months … then in the lecture room of Tyrannus for two years'(Acts 18:21 - 19:10). See map 1 above.

It is likely that three of Paul's extant letters were written from Ephesus: First Corinthians, Philemon and Colossians.

First Corinthians (53AD)

'To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours'(1Corinthians 1:2).

'Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”(1Corinthians 1:10-12).

Section 1: Those dividing the community lack true wisdom (chapters 1-2)

'We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles'(1:23).

'We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God'(2:12).

Section 2: The role and authority of an apostle (chapters 3-4)

'We are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building'(3:9).

'Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?'(3:16).

'Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries'(4:1).

Bernardin speaks of ordained priests as 'Bearers of the Mystery and Doctors of the Soul.'

Section 3: Their behaviour demonstrates their lack of true wisdom (chapters 5-6).

• Incest • appealing to pagan courts to settle disputes • irresponsible sexual behaviour

'This is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God'(6:11).

Section 4: Paul answers questions put to him (chapter 7-10)

• Questions on marriage and virginity

' I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind'(7:7).

• Eating meat offered to idols

'Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other'(10:24).

Section 5: Conduct in the Christian Assembly (chapters 11-14)

• Conduct of women in the assembly

• Conduct when celebrating the Lord's Supper

'I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes'(11:23-26).

supper A

supper B

Tintoretto 1592

'There are varieties of gifts (charisma), but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of ministries (diakonia), but the same Lord;
and there are varieties of ways of exercisinf power (energêma), but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good'(12:4-7).

1Cor 12:4-8

Christian Love is all-inclusive ('catholic')

1. 'Who is my neighbour?'(Luke 10:29)

'If you do good, know to whom you do it,
and you will be thanked for your good deeds.
Do good to the devout, and you will be repaid—
if not by them, certainly by the Most High.
No good comes to one who persists in evil
or to one who does not give alms.
Give to the devout, but do not help the sinner.
Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly;
hold back their bread, and do not give it to them,
for by means of it they might subdue you;
then you will receive twice as much evil
for all the good you have done to them.
For the Most High also hates sinners
and will inflict punishment on the ungodly.
Give to the one who is good, but do not help the sinner'(Sirach 12:1-7).

'Two nations my soul detests,
and the third is not even a people:
Those who live in Seir, and the Philistines,
and the foolish people that live in Shechem'(Sirach 50:25-26).

'Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans'(John 4:9).

• Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10)

• Jesus and the Samaritan Woma (John 4)

'The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp'(Leviticus 13:45-46).

Note: Though quarantine is insisted on, the conditions described are, for the most part, not contagious. This leads to the conclusion that those affected with scaly skin were isolated for ritual (not hygienic) reasons. They had the appearance of death, and being near them was taboo for that reason, quiote apart from the fact they their cndition was thought of as divine punishment.

• Jesus and the leper (Mark 1:40-45).

'No one who practices deceit
shall remain in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue in my presence'(Psalm 101:7).

• Jesus ate with sinners.

' Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered'(Isaiah 56:3-8).

• 'You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.
You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!'(Mark 7:8-9)

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free'(Luke 4:18).

'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her'(Mark 10:11).

'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them'(Mark 10:14).

'The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath'(John 5:15-16).

'If anyone is thirsty, come to me'(John 7:37).

'Anyone who follows me will have the light of life'(John 8:12).

'Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on'(Mark 12:41-44).

Salvation is offered to all

A. Second Vatican Council

1. Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio n.3

The brethren divided from us also carry out many of the sacred actions of the Christian religion. Undoubtedly, in ways that vary according to the condition of each church or community, these actions can truly engender a life of grace, and can be rightly described as capable of providing access to the community of salvation. It follows that these separated churches and communities, though we believe that they suffer from defects already mentioned, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.

2. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium n.16

After speaking of Jews who ‘remain most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues (Romans 11:28-29)’, and Moslems, the Council states: ‘Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is this God who gives to all people life and breath and every other gift, and who as saviour wills that all people be saved (cf 1Timothy 2:4).

Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God and , moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do God’s will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

Nor does divine providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to God’s grace. Whatever goodness or truth is found among them is looked upon by the church as a preparation for the gospel. The church regards such qualities as given by him who enlightens all people so that they may finally have life.

‘The effect of the Church’s mission is that

whatever good is found sown in people’s minds and hearts

or in the rites and customs of peoples,

these are not only preserved from destruction,

but are purified, elevated and perfected for the glory of God’(§17).

3. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes] 1965

‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age,

especially those who are in any way afflicted,

these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.

Indeed nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts,

for theirs is a community composed of men and women.

United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father

and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone’(§1).

‘Linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ,

the Christian will hasten forward to resurrection

in the strength which comes from hope.

All this holds true not only for Christians,

but for all people of good will

in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way.

For, since Christ died for all people,

and since the ultimate vocation of every person is in fact one, and divine,

we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit

in a manner known only to God

offers to everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

Such is the mystery of the human person,

and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation.

Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful.

Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us.

Christ has risen,

destroying death by His death;

He has lavished life upon us so that, as ‘sons’ in the Son,

we can cry out in the Spirit ‘Abba, Father’(§22).

‘The Risen Christ is now at work in human hearts through the power of his Spirit,

not only arousing in them a desire for the world to come

but also thereby animating, purifying and reinforcing the noble aspirations

which drive the human family to make its life one that is more human

 and to direct the whole earth to this end’(§38)

B. Paul VI

Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelisation in the modern world (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975)

'It would be useful if every Christian and every evangeliser were to pray about the following thought: people can gain salvation also in other ways by God's mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame – what Saint Paul called “blushing for the Gospel”(Romans 1:16) – or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it? For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this grows into trees and produces its full fruit’(§80).

C. John-Paul II

The Mission of the Redeemer (Redemptoris Missio 1990)

'The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation (he then quotes GS 22)’(§10).

'The Second Vatican Council recalls that the Spirit is at work in the heart of every person, through the “seeds of the Word”, to be found in human initiatives –  including religious ones –  and in the human effort to attain truth, goodness and God himself … The Spirit is at the very source of people's existential and religious questioning, a questioning which is occasioned not only by contingent situations but by the very structure of what it is to be human … “The Risen Christ is now at work in human hearts through the power of his Spirit, not only instilling a desire for the world to come but also thereby animating, purifying and reinforcing the noble aspirations which drive the human family to make its life one that is more human and to direct the whole earth to this end”(GS 38). It is the Spirit who sows the 'seeds of the Word' present in various customs and cultures, preparing them for full maturity in Christ’(§28).

‘We must have respect for human beings in their quest for answers to the deepest questions of life, and respect for the action of the Holy Spirit in people … Every authentic prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit who is mysteriously present in every human heart’(§29).

‘God does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain gaps, insufficiencies and errors … The fact that the followers of other religions can receive God’s grace and be saved by Christ apart from the ordinary means which he has established does not thereby cancel the call to faith and baptism which God wills for all people’(§55).

‘We must have respect for human beings in their quest for answers to the deepest questions of life, and respect for the action of the Holy Spirit in people … Every authentic prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit who is mysteriously present in every human heart’(§29).

‘God does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain gaps, insufficiencies and errors … The fact that the followers of other religions can receive God’s grace and be saved by Christ apart from the ordinary means which he has established does not thereby cancel the call to faith and baptism which God wills for all people’(§55).

‘Dialogue with those of other religions is demanded by deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where he wills’(§56).

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love never stops caring;

love acts always in a kind way;

love does not act out of jealousy or envy;lovet does not boast; or behave arrogantly;

love does not behave indecently or insist on its own way.

Love does not give way to irritation;  or brood over wrongs;

Love takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

Love has space enough to hold and to bear everything and everyone

Love believes all things, hopes all things, and endures whatever comes.

Love does not come to an end.

Paul uses verbs throughout and in the present tense. He is not listing various qualities that pertain to love. In true Semitic style he is telling us what love does.

‘Love never stops caring’(Greek: makrothume‹). This is listed by Paul among the fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). The focus is on our sharing in God’s magnanimous love by persevering in doing good and not allowing ourselves to be put off by opposition or suffering.  It is often translated ‘slow to anger’. This, however, is a negative way of rendering something which is very positive. ‘Long-suffering’ is better. It features as a description of the Lord in the credal statement found in Exodus 34:6 and repeated in Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Nehemiah 9:17, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2. It is a sharing in the passionate and persistent caring of God that is revealed most persuasively in Jesus ‘loving me and giving himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

 ‘Love acts always in a kind way’(Greek: chr¬steuomai). This is also listed by Paul as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Whatever gifts of grace we may or may not have been given by the Spirit, the more excellent way is the way of love which can be recognised by the kindness with which we treat others: 'Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you'(Ephesians 4:32).

Through the gift of love we share in the kindness of God (see Romans 2:4). God is frequently spoken of as ‘kind’ (chrêstos), particularly in the psalms (for example, Psalm 25:8). It is this same picture of God which is given us by Jesus, notably in his description of the way in which the father welcomed home his wayward son: ‘While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him’(Luke 15:20). It is this same compassionate and persistent love that Jesus himself manifested in the way he lived and in the way he died.  It is a gift to us from the heart of Jesus  pierced on the cross (John 19:34). This is the gift of the Spirit, the fountain of living water which flows from Jesus’ breast (John 7:38).

Having described the love of which he is speaking in terms characteristic of the love of God revealed in Jesus, Paul goes on to say what love is not. Again he uses verbs, because he wants to point to what love does not do. His description is relevant to the way the Corinthian community has been behaving.

‘Love does not act out of jealousy or envy’. The Greek verb z¬lo‹) can be used positively or negatively, depending on which direction one’s zeal takes. In fact Paul has just used it in a positive sense when he encouraged the Corinthians to  ‘strive for the greater gifts’ (12:31). Here Paul is directing his criticism against those in Corinth who have what they consider important spiritual gifts and who apply their zeal in preventing others from sharing in them (hence ‘jealous’). On the other side, Paul is also critical of those who have their heart set on having these ‘spiritual gifts’ that give a person a certain prominence in the community, and who apply their zeal to acquiring them (hence ‘envious’).  Paul has already accused the community of harbouring this vice (see 3:3), which he has listed elsewhere as one of the ‘works of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:20), and so as contrary to the fruits of the Spirit.

‘Love does not boast’(Greek: perpereuomai) This verb occurs only here in the New Testament, though Paul has often had occasion in this letter to criticise those who are boasting of their gifts.

‘Love does not behave arrogantly’(Greek: phusio‹). Paul has already criticised the Corinthians a number of times for being arrogant (4:6; 4:18-19; 5:2; 8:1).

‘Love does not behave indecently’. As used in this letter, the connotations of ‘decent’ are sexual (7:36; 12:23). There is a modesty, a tenderness and a delicacy which is proper to love in its sexual expression (see 6:12-20).

Love does not insist on its own way’. According to Paul, it is because the Jews sought miracles, wanting proofs of divine power that satisfied their expectations, that they found the cross a scandal (1:22-23). It is because people were concentrating their attention on changing their state of life that they were failing to give unhindered devotion to the Lord (7:27). We are reminded of Paul’s earlier admonition: ‘Do not  seek your own advantage, but that of the other’(10:24).

While neither ‘giving way to irritation’ nor ‘brooding over wrongs occurs elsewhere in this letter, it is not difficult to imagine the behaviour of those in whom these feelings were aroused as they saw their freedom to behave as they wished being criticised by others in the community. We can imagine the feelings of irritation and resentment which some experienced at not being able to take people to court (6:1-8), or behave sexually as they wished (6:12-20), or divorce (7:10-16), or eat meat offered to idols (8:1ff), or wear any kind of hair style they wished (11:2-16), or dine well with their friends at the Lord’s supper (11:17ff). Nor is it difficult to imagine similar feelings being aroused in those who were pressured into eating meat against their conscience, or who came to the assembly only to find themselves humiliated.

Love ‘takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.’ We think of Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians about those who ‘have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness’(2Thessalonians 2:12). The truth, as always in Paul, refers to the ultimate reality of God as revealed in Christ on the cross. True love does not indulge in behaviour that is contrary to God’s will (5:8), but only such as radiates the reality of God.

‘Love has space enough to hold and to bear everything and everyone’. The long paraphrase is based on two facts. The first is that the Greek panta is not limited to things. The second is that the Greek verb  steg‹ derives from the word for ‘roof’(Greek: steg¬), hence the connotation of space and of containing. Love is about having space in one’s heart, space for people, space to hold problems, disappointments and pain, as well as joys, hopes and dreams. Paul is thinking of the heart of God ‘from whom are all things, and for whom we exist’(8:6). He is thinking of the heart of Christ ‘through whom are all things and through whom we exist’(8:6). Their crucified Lord has space in his heart for all the members of the Corinthian community ‘together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours’(1:2). He has space in his heart for the whole human race for which he offered his life (1:13; see also 9:2).

Love ‘believes all things’. Paul continues to speak of the close union of love and faith (Galatians 5:6; 5:22; 1Thessalonians 1:3; 3:6; 5:8; 2Thessalonians 1:3). To believe is to be open to God’s self-revelation, to accept what we come to know when we listen to God, and to act accordingly. God knows every one and every thing with the knowledge of one who loves. In other words, God continually believes in us and in our possibilities for good. God respects our freedom, but he cares passionately enough for us to be ‘angry’ with us (see 1Thessalonians 1:10), and to persist in drawing us, through the realities of our life, to him and to each other. To this end he offers us the possibility of repentance when we fail, and believes in our capacity to be converted and to live. For us, too, believing and loving are inseparable.

Love ‘hopes all things’. The word ‘hope’ occurs in 9:10. It is linked closely with faith and love also in Galatians 5:5-6 and 1Thessalonians 1:3 and 5:8. One who loves is attentive to present communion with the one loved. But the present moment is not static or isolated;  rather, it points to and opens up a future communion for which we long, and to which we are called. Our present union encourages us to leave the future confidently in the hands of him in whom we have placed our trust.

Love ‘endures all things’.This was a central theme in Paul’s Thessalonian correspondence where a major concern was persecution (2Thessalonians 1:4; 3:5). Endurance  is linked with faith, hope and love in 1Thessalonians 1:3. Paul is speaking, for the only time in this letter to the community in Corinth, of the ability to remain faithful to love in the midst of opposition. The supreme example of this is Jesus on the cross.