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BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: 1 Cor 14:37


If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 14:37 (ESV)

I was talking with a “legalist” recently who reminded me that if you love the Lord, you will keep His commandments (John 14:15; et.al.)

I replied by asking what commands has the Lord given us? I pointed out that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Further, Jesus added that the whole law and prophets hang on these. “The law and the prophets” is one way of saying “all of Scripture.”

My friend was not willing to leave it there. He said that what Paul taught is also “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37, KJV).

Does this text add something to the commandments Jesus said are the greatest two and on which all of Scripture hangs? Does Paul here intend to say that Jesus’ great commandments are insufficient, and that we must search diligently to find all of the hidden commandments since these things are also among those things we must obey if we love Jesus?

Before we make such an addition to Jesus’ commandments, we need to examine the context of 1 Corinthians 14 and Paul’s other statements about commandment keeping.

Context of 1 Corinthians 14:37

This entire chapter addresses confusion and abuses in the worship assembly at Corinth. The chapter just before it is Paul’s famous “love chapter” where he speaks of love as the greatest of all things. Chapter 14 begins by calling the Corinthian church (and us) to follow the way of love.

Those disrupting the assembly by speaking in tongues with no interpreter or by rudely interrupting another while he was prophesying were not following the way of love. That was not the way to teach, strengthen,comfort and edify the church, nor was it the way to praise God in the assembly.

Conditions there were so bad that even unbelievers coming into the assembly would think them mad. They certainly would not see the presence of God there.

It was to those practicing those disruptions that Paul addressed the verse in question. They thought that exercising their spiritual gifts proved they were spiritual. Yet, their exercise of these gifts was bringing no benefit to the church.

Instead, there was only confusion and bedlam as each tried to show off his own personal gift. They forgot that every  gift they received was for the common good of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7). The gifts would benefit the body only when those with the gifts would use them while acting in love.

God was not the source of the confusion in that assembly. It came from those who wanted to excel others in the spiritual gifts. Paul wanted them to excel in love for one another. By doing this, order would return to the assembly of the saints.

Love Fulfills the Law

We have already noted 1 Corinthians 13:13 where Paul wrote that love is greater than faith and hope.

The early part of that chapter pointed out that no great deed, impressive gift, or bountiful knowledge is worth anything if it is not accompanied by love.

(1Co 13:1)  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2)  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3)  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Everything the Christian does to serve his God is to be an expression of love for God and man.

This is especially true of relationships within the body of Christ.

(Gal 5:13)  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (14)  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (15)  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Our freedom and liberty in Christ is bounded by the constraints of love for one another. This, Paul says, is how we fulfill the law – and avoid the spiritual cannibalism we often see among some “Christian” groups today.

Paul wrote to let us know what loving one another looks like. He did not write to give us an undefined number of commandments in addition to those Jesus gave while He was on earth.

Paul Is Not Alone

Paul was not the only New Testament author to teach this way either.

Jas 2:8  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

1Pe 4:8  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1Jn 2:3-11  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (4)  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, (5)  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: (6)  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (7)  Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. (8)  At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (9)  Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. (10)  Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (11)  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
James, Peter and John agree with Paul that love is the most important thing. James says love is the royal law. Peter says the law of love is “above all.” John says that love is what shows one is walking in light instead of in the darkness.
John continues:
1Jn 3:11  For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (23)  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
Not only does love mark the boundary between walking in light & life or walking in darkness & death, John stresses two commandments: “Believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us.”
Now before someone objects that this makes the way of salvation extremely easy, consider how Jesus said we are to love one another.
Joh 13:34  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Joh 15:9  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10)  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…. (14) You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Untill we learn to love each other as the Father loves Jesus, don’t talk about this being a less demanding standard.
If we are truly spiritual, we will not boast in our knowledge, our gifts, our good works, or our purity of doctrine. We will, instead, walk in the way of love for God and one another that Jesus walked – and which He teaches us to walk.
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2 Responses

  1. Good points. Corinth’s problems would have all been solved with love.

    • I am sorry about how long it has taken me to see this comment and approve it! I have been very busy with the Million Dollar Sunday efforts by Eastern European Mission for whom I am a Regional Representative.

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