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An in-depth commentary/study on chapters 12 and 13 of First Corinthians.
Category - Bible Commentaries
God has always looked for fruit, because He is a patient farmer, or “husbandman” (John 15:1; James 5:7, KJV). He planted Israel in the land of Canaan through Joshua (Yeshua, Jesus) and expected to find good “grapes” (Isaiah 5:1, 2). On God’s big farm, Israel was “His vineyard,” and Judah was “His delightful plant” (Isaiah 5:7).
But Isaiah tells us that Israel rebelled and produced only “worthless” grapes, so Israel was cast off in 721 B.C. Years later, when Jesus came to Judah, He found the same situation and told a parable based on Isaiah’s Song of My Beloved (Isaiah 5:1). In Matt. 21:33-44, the stewards of God’s vineyard usurped the fruit for themselves, killed God’s servants (prophets), and then knowingly killed the Son in order to “seize his inheritance” (Matt. 21:38).
God was looking for fruit from His vineyard, but was prevented from enjoying the fruits of His labor. Either the quality of the fruit was poor, as with Israel (Isaiah 5:4), or the stewards were stealing it, as with Judah (Matt. 21:38).
In Isaiah 5, the wild grapes (KJV) or worthless grapes (NASB) of Israel represented the illegitimate sons of God claiming Joseph’s Birthright; while the people of Judah usurped the Scepter from the true Heir of all things. True Israelites (sons of God) have love, and true Jews (or Judahites) do not usurp the scepter from Jesus Christ.
The fruit of God’s vineyard is the same as the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, 23. The first and foremost fruit is love, on which all the others are based. Even as the entire law hangs upon love, so also all of the fruits of the Spirit are rooted in love.
There are sixteen characteristics of love in Paul’s list in 1 Cor. 13:4-8. Sixteen is the biblical number of love. An overcomer may possibly go through life without demonstrating the gifts of the Spirit—although this is improbable—but love is absolutely indispensable.
1. Love is patient
2. Love is kind
3. Love is not jealous
4. Love does not brag (or boast)
5. Love is not arrogant
6. Love does not act unbecomingly
7. Love does not seek its own welfare
8. Love is not provoked
9. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered
10. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness
11. Love rejoices with the truth
12. Love bears all things
13. Love believes all things
14. Love hopes all things
15. Love endures all things
16. Love never fails
These are the characteristics of the sons of God who are destined to inherit life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). In other words, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is Paul’s blueprint on how to become an overcomer.
Not all believers are overcomers. Most believers, in fact, will inherit life in the general resurrection at the end of the thousand years, as Jesus tells us in John 5:28, 29, and as Paul tells us in Acts 24:14, 15. The general resurrection, which is the second, includes both believers and unbelievers, whereas the first resurrection is limited to the few and includes only believers (overcomers).
In Luke 14:12-14 we read what Jesus said:
12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
An overcomer, whose love is unconditional, giving without requiring some benefit in return, will be repaid at the first resurrection, which is “the resurrection of the righteous.” This instruction sets forth the foundation of genuine love that is “kind” and “does not seek its own welfare.”
Because love is also expressed by all of the laws of God (which hang upon it), we know that God intended for the law to be written upon our hearts, so that we would be love. Believers who are yet in an Old Covenant mindset are those who only perform acts of love. This is not a bad thing, but neither is it the goal. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we grow in grace until love becomes our nature and is expressed naturally and without effort.
The Old Covenant is limited in its ability to achieve the goal. Old Covenant unbelievers will find it impossible. Old Covenant believers (in Christ) will find some success, but with difficulty and with limitations. In the end, it takes a clear understanding of the nature of the New Covenant to overcome the limitations of the Old Covenant.
In other words, if our faith lies in our own vow of obedience, based on the pattern of salvation found in Exodus 19:8, then we will struggle unsuccessfully to achieve the goal of perfect love. But if our faith lies in God’s vow to make us His people, according to the vow that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the pattern found in Deut. 29:12, 13, then and only then can the goal be achieved. God cannot fail to fulfill His New Covenant vow.
Hence, if our faith resides in ourselves, and the ability of our own will to fulfill its good intentions, we will fail. But if our faith resides in God and in His ability, then our faith has the proper foundation to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit that God intended from the beginning.
This is not to say that we do nothing. Instead, we seek to be led by the Spirit in all that we do, but in the end, we recognize that God is the One who is working within us by His Spirit. The promise of the Father was to send His Spirit to accomplish the goal that our flesh was incapable of doing. In this way, He transforms us into the image of Christ little by little each day through real-life experiences, often by suffering and pain.
It is not likely that such incremental change will cause anyone to reach perfection during one’s lifetime, yet those who are faithful in what they are given will not lose their reward.
Someday, when the second set of feasts is fulfilled in us, whatever imperfection yet remains in our hearts will be cleansed on the Day of Atonement. We will be granted the Jubilee on that day, so that we are eligible to be born as sons of God on the first day of Tabernacles. We will then be presented to the Father on the eighth day according to the law (Exodus 22:29, 30).
The first characteristic of love is patience. Patience is possible (and necessary) only because God created time. We usually measure patience in terms of time; however, patience is actually measured by faithfulness. Faith is timeless, but faithfulness is the outworking of faith over a period of time.
The Hebrew root word aman is a verb that means “to believe,” that is, to be faithful and trusting. It is not a momentary act, for though it must have a beginning point, it also has endurance over time. Hence, it has a quality of being faithful, and such faithfulness is the measure of patience. The book of Hebrews has much to say about patience and endurance. The beginning of faith makes one a believer; but patient endurance measured by faithfulness makes one an overcomer.
Because patience is the foremost quality of love, insofar as Paul’s list is concerned, and because love is a requirement to be an overcomer, we may conclude that overcomers are those who have learned patience. But such lessons cannot be learned quickly, for patience requires time. Time for what? Well, look at the example of Abraham, who received the promise of God but then waited for many years before the promised son was born.
Even then, his son Isaac was only the first fruit of the promise. In fact, Isaac was only a type of the first fruit, because the ultimate first fruit was Christ. Isaac was merely a type of Christ. Yet how could we despise the day of small beginnings, now that we can look back over the passage of time and see the progressive fulfillment of God’s promise? If it were not for the record of Scripture, Isaac’s birth would have passed unnoticed in the national archives of nations. Yet his birth changed the future of the world.
Many of us have received promises from God. Not all that we perceive to be promises are actual promises, of course, for our discernment is often flawed, and our understanding often proves to be carnal. However, many have received genuine promises from God, which we assume (at first) are to be fulfilled immediately. But the time is delayed, and delay gives birth either to despair or patience.
Sometimes the promises of God are fulfilled in the next generation—or even thousands of years later, as we see from the promise given to Abraham. The beneficiaries of his promises are those who have faith and are faithful. These are the “sons” and heirs of Abraham (Gal. 3:29). These “are blessed with Abraham, the believer” (Gal. 3:9). To be Abraham’s heir, one must follow Abraham’s example. “It is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7), not those who may claim physical descent from him.
Most of us have been taught about Abraham’s faith, and we think we are sons of Abraham by accepting Christ and vowing (or deciding) to follow Jesus. But Abraham was qualified because he believed the promise of God, not because he himself made a promise to God. Rom. 4:20-22 says,
20 yet with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
Abraham believed that God was able to fulfill His promise, even though it looked impossible. That is biblical faith. Those who do not truly believe this find it necessary to help God fulfill His promise. They think that the promise can be fulfilled only through man’s help (“cooperation”). God usually allows us to cooperate until we realize that we only mess it up. When we give up and tell God, “I give up! You do it!” then faith is born—faith in God, not in ourselves.
If we define cooperation as helping God, then it probably indicates a lack of faith. If we define cooperation in terms of responding to what God has initiated, then our actions simply give evidence of our faith in what He has promised to accomplish by the counsel of His own will. Hence, cooperation can be evidence either of faith or a lack of faith. It depends upon how we define the term and how we implement it.
Patience, then, is a life of faith, wherein we see ourselves as responders, not as initiators. It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20). I am just a body in which He manifests Himself. I am just the glove upon His hand. I have no more confidence in the flesh, for in my flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:5). Patience, then, is the primary expression of love.
The word for patience in 1 Cor. 13:4 is macrothumeo. The word macro means “long,” and thumeo is from thumos, which is where we get our word for the thymus gland. The word means “anger or passion.” Patience, or macrothumeo, was the ability to go a long time without reacting with anger or passion. A patient person simply did not react to outward circumstances but to the inward motivation of the Spirit.
This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 34:6 and Num. 14:18 as the equivalent of the Hebrew, arek aph, “long-nosed.” The KJV translates it as “longsuffering,” and the NASB translates it “slow to anger.” The idea is that one’s nose, or nostrils flare when angry, and a person breathes heavily when emotions arise. But one who is “long nosed” is slow to be affected emotionally. Therefore, he is patient.
Because patience is a fruit of the Spirit, it is evident that it is not a fruit of the flesh. There is a difference in the quality of patience between one who is fleshly and one who is spiritual. The fleshly man may learn patience and endurance through self-discipline, but the spiritual man receives patience from God’s disciplines. The pattern for this is discussed in the book of Hebrews in terms of Israel’s trials in the wilderness. Most of the Israelites lacked endurance and thus failed to receive the promises.
Godly patience is a quality of the holy seed that has been begotten in us by His Spirit. It is not naturally a quality of the fleshly seed by which we were begotten by our earthly parents. We read in 1 Peter 1:23-25,
23 for you have been born again [gennao, “begotten”] not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
Here Peter tells us that the word of God is the divine seed that has begotten us, and that we are therefore new creatures in Christ. The “old man,” as Paul would describe our flesh man, was begotten by corruptible seed that has little endurance, for it is like grass and flowers which wither and fall to the ground in a day. The “new man,” however, has been begotten by the Spirit through the incorruptible and imperishable seed of the word of God. Hence, it “abides forever.”
If we have been begotten by the Spirit, we are no longer the person that our parents brought into this world. Actually, there are two people instead of just one, and we then have opportunity to declare before the divine court a change of identity from the old man of flesh to the new spiritual man that has been begotten by the seed of the word. This is a legal declaration of identity. In other words, going before the divine court is a spiritual act of law.
The spiritual man, which Paul describes in 1 Cor. 2:14-16, has all of the qualities of love, which he has received from his heavenly Father. This includes patience, because the spiritual man—Christ in you—has the power to endure to the end. In that sense, when we speak of learning patience, we should understand that all of the characteristics of love already reside in that holy seed that is growing and maturing in every true believer.
The problem, then, is that we seem to lose track of our new identity. Most believers have not been taught these basic principles of sonship, and so after they are begotten of God, they continue to identify with their fleshly man. Their focus is upon reforming the flesh, rather than in living out of their new identity. They still identify with their fleshly self, their earthly family, race, and culture, thinking that this old identity has now been saved and blessed by God.
But the old man was sentenced to death in the time of Adam. That will not change, for that is the divine verdict for Adam’s sin, which has been passed down to all of his generations and has also affected all of creation. But God in His mercy has prepared another way to immortality. It comes through a new beginning, a new begetting, wherein we may be begotten by another Father and thereby become sons of God. By a legal change of identity, we may become new creatures, no longer identified by fleshly parents and ancestors, but by a new Father—God Himself.
This new creation man, a son of God through the seed of the word, has the same character found in Jesus Christ. It is not Jesus Himself, but “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27). It is not Jesus Christ, but Stephen Christ, or James Christ, or Ron Christ. Fill in your own name, for you were begotten according to the same pattern that Jesus was begotten in the Virgin Mary.
Our new creation man will never replace the Head, but it is certainly the Body of Christ, having the same DNA from the same Father. God’s DNA is love.
Therefore, all of the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are already within your new creation man. Our mission is first to allow the word of God to beget Christ in us, secondly, to receive this new identity, and thirdly, to walk according to that new identity. If we do this, then we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
Religious people seek to train their old man of flesh to be good enough to be saved. They mistakenly think that the child of flesh can be an inheritor in the Kingdom and that it is “chosen.” They hope that the Holy Spirit can perfect the old man of flesh. It is not a bad thing to train the flesh or to restrain it from doing evil. But it is better to reckon it dead and to walk according to one’s heavenly identity, for that is the true Christian (Christ-like) way of life.
Patience, then, is the outworking of love over a period of time, beginning with a verdict from the divine court, whereby we receive a change of identity. Patience is seen in a person’s spiritual growth and advancement from immaturity to maturity. It is the path to immortality, begun by the word of truth that begat us through Passover, which now teaches us patience through Pentecost, and which culminates at the fulfillment of Tabernacles.
Tabernacles is the time when the word that is within us, having been fully developed, is brought to full birth in the world. The word is becoming flesh in us—not taking upon itself the flesh of our earthly parents, but new flesh as it ought to be, an expression of our heavenly Father.
So be patient and run the race of life with endurance. Be slow to react to the provocations of the world. Gain strength and maturity by allowing your new creation man to be the real you. In the end, you will receive the crown of life reserved for the overcomers. Your new creation man will inherit the Kingdom.