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Lesson Plan on 1 Corinthians 8-13



While the Roman Christians were relatively righteous when Paul wrote his epistle to them in 57 A.D., some years earlier, Paul had a really hard time with another Christian congregation that he had personally organized. Paul, during his second missionary journey, visited Corinth for about 18 months (about 50-51 A.D.). He set up the Church and formed many friendly and holy relationships he would cherish for the rest of his life. After Paul leaves, the congregation becomes very corrupted and unruly.

To fully understand Paul's epistle to the Corinthians you have to understand that Paul had already written an earlier epistle to the Corinthian Saints (see 1 Corinthians 5:9). The epistle we know as "First Corinthians" was actually Paul's response to the Corinthian Saints who had already responded to the first letter he wrote. The earliest letter, currently, is lost and is not in our New Testament. Therefore, when one reads 1 Corinthians a good translation is going to have quotation marks often around various phrases. This is Paul directly responding to how the Saints in Corinth responded to his initial letter. We must read First Corinthians with the understanding that we are entering a conversation that is already well underway.

This epistle was probably written in 53 A.D. while Paul was in Ephesus. Paul is getting word directly from a friend, Chloe, and her household (see 1 Corinthians 1:11) on the host of issues the Church is having. Paul is also probably getting word from Apollos and others which is why he feels the need to write at least 4 epistles in total (we only have the second and fourth one he wrote). Chloe and other faithful Saints in Corinth are probably writing Paul telling him all the concerns and failed attempts to get the people to repent. They reach out to Paul because he was the one who organized the Church there in the first place. It could be said that Paul was the regional authority over the area.

The issues addressed in this Epistle alone are quite lengthy. They include:

  • Divisions and quarrels
  • Sexual immorality
  • Lawsuits among believers
  • Marriage and singleness
  • The conduct of women
  • The propriety of eating meat offered to idols
  • The worthy reception of the Eucharist
  • Confusion about food and worship practices
  • Controversy surrounding Jesus' resurrection
  • Partisanship
  • Incest
  • Prostitution
  • Celibacy within marriage
  • Christians married to one another asking about divorce
  • The great apostasy happened due to a few different major factors coalescing together. The Saints at Corinth was an example of letting the influence of Greek/Roman/Pagan culture, philosophy, and worship too large of an influence on their life. The Corinthians lived in one of the most pagan-influenced cities in the world, but so did the Roman Saints. The struggle with the Saints in Corinth appears to hinge on the lack of covenantal unity on Jesus Christ and His Gospel.


    Some of the things Paul says about women in 1 Corinthians have been used throughout world history to treat and think of women in the worst way. It is my opinion that much of what Paul says is actually not that controversial, even by today's standards, if we are willing to read it and Paul's actions in their original context. It has been the influence of Greek culture that led to ancient Christian fathers simply misunderstanding Paul's words. One scholar, Brent Schmidt, goes so far as to say that men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others did not know ancient Greek very well and made a lot of theological conclusions that were incorrect and, at times, horrific as a result. (1) Those theological conclusions became mainstream and still gain influence to this day among biblical translators who wrestle between the ancient meaning of the text and their Christian inheritance from the reformers and Augustine. We are blessed because of the Restoration!

    I don't want to dwell too much on this topic, so if it is a non-issue for you feel free to move on. For those who wrestle with what Paul says the following is offered to help you get the upper hand in that wrestle:

    1. First and foremost, you must remember that Paul often used women at the forefront in teaching the doctrine of Christ to these gentile congregations. To the Romans Paul commissions Pheobe to teach the contents of his letter. To the Corinthians, as noted above, Chloe is front and center in trying to declare repentance to these "babes in Christ." Chloe is Paul's close confidant in trying to reign in the Corinthian Church. In Romans chapter 16 alone Paul lists off five women who have worked hard with him in his ministering efforts. With this in mind, it ought to give us pause before we read Paul's words in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, 11, & 14 too harshly. Paul's positive treatment of women was well beyond the Roman, Greek, and Jewish customs of his day, that much is undeniable.

    2. Paul says some interesting things about marriage in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 that the Joseph Smith Translation helps us a little bit with. Verse 1 is an example where quotation marks would be helpful. Paul is quoting a letter he had received. Paul is not saying by way of commandment for men and women to be celibate. Richard Draper gives us great insight here noting that there were two theological factions within the Church in Corinth. Paul has already addressed those who feel like "anything goes." These individuals had adopted the belief that we are only spiritual beings and denied the resurrection (which is why he ends this epistle talking about the resurrection). Therefore, they saw anything they did with their body as not affecting the spirit. Here in chapter 7, Paul is transitioning to those who feel "nothing goes", or, take doctrinal teachings and principles well beyond their extremes. Paul is emphatically teaching that Men and women were made for each other. (2)

    3. Later in chapter 7 Paul seems to be indifferent about marriage. When read in its context, Paul a few different times is lamenting about an oncoming trial or affliction (see verses 26-29). It is this oncoming distress that causes Paul to see the need to engage more fully in the ministry, but he doesn't condemn anyone who wants to get married. What distress or oncoming crisis has got Paul spooked when it comes to the marriage question? According to scholars, it is the oncoming great apostasy he knows is coming! (3) The only other times in scripture we get the idea to hold off on marriage is when exile is imminent (Jeremiah 16:2-4, Hosea 9:9, Matthew 24:19, & Luke 29:29). In short, Paul was once married himself (most think he was widowed) and saw the ministry as almost taking precedent to bring as many unto Christ as he could before apostasy befell the world.

    4. In chapter 11 we are told women ought to remain covered. This is purely an ancient custom and "has little application for today." (4) One scholar has noted that this can be compared to seeing a man in the temple or worship service wearing a baseball cap on his head in our day. (5) Paul was trying to help Corinthian Saints keep the peace and be respectful of customs. There is some temple application women can gain from Paul's discussion about these coverings: "In either a symbolic or literal interpretation, Paul described this empowering veil as a sign of unique female authority to pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5). By covering her head, female saints received “power on her head” and could interact with angels (1 Corinthians 11:10). Paul concluded by emphasizing that men and women are completely interdependent — woman was created from man, while man is born of woman (1 Corinthians 11:11–12). In this regard, we see an equal status between men and women in their relationship with the Lord. Their relationship focuses on their union with each other and God." (6)

    5. Even though these verses are a part of next week's reading, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is very controversial and, frankly, contradicts many of the things Paul says about women earlier (see 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as one example). It might be interesting to note that most biblical scholars have concluded that these two verses were interpolations added later and not original to Paul (see here and here). They just contradict too much, appears to be an abrupt insertion, and the language is uncharacteristic of Paul.

    “Often, we women don’t realize that the power through which we accomplish ‘much good’ in our callings and in our homes is an expression of priesthood power. As a matter of fact, all the good that is done in the world is done through God’s power. . . . Knowing that women have access to that priesthood power strengthens us to be able to do what is asked in whatever responsibilities or assignments are ours.” - Jean B. Bingham, “Endowed with Power” (Brigham Young University Women’s Conference, May 2019)

    "The heavens are just as open to women who are endowed with God’s power flowing from their priesthood covenants as they are to men who bear the priesthood. I pray that truth will register upon each of your hearts because I believe it will change your life. Sisters, you have the right to draw liberally upon the Savior’s power to help your family and others you love." - President Russell M. Nelson (7)


    We will skip to chapter 12 where we get more of the meat of Paul's message. Verse 1 begins as if the Saints in Corinth misunderstood or misapplied their spiritual gifts. It appears from the context that the Saints thought they were better than others based on the visibility of a spiritual gift and that they were carrying over relics from their previous idol worship and calling it "spirituality." One scholar summarizes it well by stating Paul is going to try and shift their "understanding spiritual power as the property of the one excercising it (and therefore something to boast about) to understanding spiritual power as a gift of diving grace (charis) (and therefore something for which to thank God and to use in the service of Christ)." (Eerdmans's Commentary on the Bible, p. 1340)

    READ 1 CORINTHIANS 12:7-14

    "7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

    8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

    9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

    10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

    11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

    12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

    13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

    14 For the body is not one member, but many."

    Elder Marvin J. Ashton gives a list of other spiritual gifts:

    "... let me mention a few gifts that are not always evident or noteworthy but that are very important. Among these may be your gifts...: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost." (8)


    How have you seen these spiritual gifts bless your life or the lives of others?

    Paul used the metaphor of our collective spiritual gifts being the body of Christ. The diversity of our gifts is calculated to bring us into a unity of the Faith, Faith in Jesus Christ.


    How does one go about learning what spiritual gifts they have? How does one go about acquiring other spiritual gifts?

    George Q. Cannon once said:

    "How many of you … are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in your family circle or in your secret places, contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to manifest Himself to you through these powers and these gifts?... I know that God is willing to heal the sick, that He is willing to bestow the gift of discerning of spirits, the gift of wisdom, of knowledge and of prophecy, and other gifts that may be needed. If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections." (9)

    Taking Paul's metaphor and Elder Cannon's council together, we might glean that perfection is partly only attained as the Saints use their gifts to help each other. As a collective body, we become a perfect body. This is consistent with 1 Corinthians 3:16 in which Paul tells these Saints that "ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you." The Greek here is plural, saying that the collective body of Saints in Corinth was the temple of God and that the Spirit collectively worked among them. (10) We become a perfect body despite our weaknesses. Paul articulates this in Hebrews 11:40  when speaking of the ancient Saints "that they without us should not be made perfect." I wonder how much more readily this idea is meant to apply to us who are alive together? 

    For example, a more plain translation of 1 Corinthians 12:22 says:

    "... the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are all the more necessary." (N.T. Wright, Kingdom New Testament, p. 356)

    Verse 26 makes a similar point in that when a part of the body suffers, all members of the body suffer with it. Paul also says when one member of the body is "honoured" (more plainly means "to be clothed with splendor" in Greek) all members rejoice with it.


    How are we to understand that the weaker parts or persons within the body of Christ are more necessary?

    Elder Neal A. Maxwell gets to the answer when he once said:

    "Your lives, your friendships, your marriages, your families, your neighbors and coworkers currently constitute the sample of humanity which God has given you. We are each other’s clinical material, and we make a mistake when we disregard that sober fact." (11)

    How else are we to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort (see Romans 12:15 & Mosiah 18:8-10) unless we have the opportunity to use spiritual gifts for that purpose? No wonder the weaker parts of the body are more necessary, for the more vital parts of the body have no exalted purpose without them! This is why we minister and this is how we use our spiritual gifts. 

    READ 1 CORINTHIANS 12:27-31

    "27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

    28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

    29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?

    30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

    31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way."

     One scholar has summarized the first few of these verses by saying:

    "Paul emphasizes that the Lord set up the Church such that no one person exercises all the gifts or fills all the roles. This fact includes every unit from the smallest branch to the general level of the Church. Though it is true that the current prophet holds all the keys of the priesthood, he does not fill all the offices or exercise all the gifts. That limitation assures each Saint that his or her gifts and talents are sorely needed in the kingdom. The questions Paul asks in these verses point to the fact that no one holds all the offices or has all the gifts of the Spirit and, therefore, the Church needs everyone." (12)


    Paul is clueing us and his audience in onto a gospel mystery within verse 31. A better translation of that verse reads:

    "You should be eager for the better kinds of gifts. Now I'm going to show you a better way, a much better way." (N.T. Wright, Kingdom New Testament, p. 356-357)


    "1 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.

    2 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.

    3 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.

    4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

    5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

    6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

    7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

    8 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."


    Using Paul's description above, why is Charity "a more excellent way" compared to the litany of other spiritual gifts? What application does this have for us?

    Charity comes from the Greek agape and means "the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God." Of further interest, and this is consistent with themes Paul speaks of a few chapters earlier, early Christian "Church Fathers used agape to designate both a rite (using bread and wine) and a meal of fellowship to which the poor were invited (Jude 1:12)." (13) It, like the Greek for Faith, Grace, Righteousness, and so forth, has a communal and covenantal meaning.

    If we keep in mind the context of this continuing discussion of spiritual gifts and the struggle the Corinth saints had against each other, we might understand what Paul says at the end of chapter 13.

    READ 1 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13

    "11 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.

    12 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.

    13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

    In context, Paul's comment about putting away childish things was in response to the very child-like understanding the Corinth saints had about gifts of the spirit. Many were claiming more prestige than others because they could prophesy or speak in tongues. Richard Draper notes that they had a gospel paradigm that saw people "above" and "below" them. They saw social relations as "them" versus "us." Paul was begging them to become more spiritually mature and was teaching the "more excellent way" of charity to hopefully open their eyes to how many spiritual gifts have an end, but "Charity never ends" (NET of 1 Corinthians 13:8). As a side note, "MORMON—This word could easily have been formed by combining two ancient Egyptian words, mor (“love”) and mon (“established forever”). This would render a meaning of “love established forever.”" (14)

    Paul's point to put away childish understandings calls back to a point he previously made in chapter 3. There he speaks of needing to feed the Corinth Saints with milk because they couldn't then bear the meat (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The meat of the gospel is the pure love of Jesus Christ. We will have issues if we do not understand this. Neal A. Maxwell put it even more succinctly when he wrote "... to misunderstand the true nature of love is to misunderstand life." (Notwithstanding My Weakness, p. 105)


    When it comes to Charity, how might we put away our child-like understanding and start to chew on the meatier or "more excellent" parts?

    I have just a few suggestions and offer them in a humble spirit for your consideration:

    1. Charity is not developed, it is a gift only obtained by praying "unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love" (see Moroni 7:48). Seeing it as a developmental attribute can stunt us from following the counsel prophets give. It can lead to a misunderstanding of the source of our gifts, which was very detrimental to the unity of the Corinth Saints. Jeffrey R. Holland has said:

    "Mormon explicitly taught, that this love, this ability, capacity, and reciprocation we all so want, is a gift. It is “bestowed”—that is Mormon’s word. It doesn’t come without effort and it doesn’t come without patience, but, like salvation itself, in the end it is a gift, given by God to the "true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ."" (15)

    2. Because it is a gift we will know if we have it. Mormon calls it "the pure love of Christ" and men like Nephi and Mormon declared that they had such a gift (see Moroni 8:17 & 2 Nephi 33:7-9). Zion is defined as the "pure in heart" (see D&C 97:21), which rings awfully close to "the pure love of Christ." It shouldn't be a stretch to understand that Charity as a gift is the qualifying gift for Zion across all ages, for Zion is also defined as a people with "one heart" (see Moses 7:18). One scholar of our faith has, therefore, called charity "loving sealed relationships." (16) Christian scholars, therefore, call Charity "realized eschatology" (Eerdman's Commentary on the Bible, p. 1342). (Eschatology means the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.)

    3. Charity is described as a "bond" (see Colossians 3:14) in which one can be clothed. This bond is the "bond of perfectness" (see D&C 88:125). This calls to mind, again, the idea of sealed relationships and covenants. Joseph Smith once plainly taught:

    "Until we have perfect love (charity) we are liable to fall, and when we have a testimony that our names are sealed in the Lamb’s Book of Life we have perfect love (charity), and then it is impossible for false Christs to deceive us." (Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 23)

    Therefore, charity is a bond and a power that will allow us to also discern false Christs because we have experience with the living Christ.

    4. The language of sealing and covenant is used around Charity in many places. Another interesting example is 1 John 1:3, which states that Charity that has been bestowed upon some allows them to "be called the sons of God." This same phrase "sons of God" is used in Moses 6:67-68 & D&C 76:57-58 when referring to very sacred experiences regarding sanctification and exaltation. It also calls to mind the language used in the "Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood" (see D&C 84:33-41). A few quotes:

    "The basic idea of making one's calling and election sure is that through faith, repentance, and baptism, a person can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. As he responds to its teachings, he becomes purer and develops the attributes of godliness, culminating in Christ-like love." - Richard Draper ("Opening the Seven Seals", pg. 81)

    "... the bond of charity is the sealing power that is also the promise of eternal posterity." (Ricks and Baker, "Whom Shall Ascend Into the Hill of the Lord", p. 262)

    5. At times in my life I have thought (and have been asked by others) why living prophets and apostles don't openly speak about subjects like "making one's calling and election sure." Nephi in plainness identifies, again, this close relationship between this idea and Charity when he wrote:

    "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." (see 2 Nephi 31:20, bold added for emphasis)

    It is my experience when men and women get so caught up in making their calling and elections sure, that they become very susceptible to deception and get caught up in the false mentalities that the Corinthian saints fell to. I am sure the brethren understand when we shift the focus onto a proper understanding of Charity, then we can really shift our focus on making our calling and election sure but in a posture that pours outwards to bless the lives of others. This is what Joseph Smith meant when he taught:

    "A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the world, anxious to bless the whole of the human family." (17)

    It is only when we have a love of God and of all men that the Father will declare such sacred blessings upon us. In other words, if you want to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (see Philippians 2:12) you need to try the "more excellent way" of Paul (see 1 Corinthians 12:31). It is only then will receive a "more sure word of prophecy" (see 2 Peter 1:19 & D&C 131:5). "Wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father" (see Ether 12:34), which is in "the gift of [Jesus Christ that] God prepared a more excellent way" (see Ether 12:11).

    President Russell M. Nelson in a recent General Conference address declared that both of his counselors are "filled with charity." He goes on to promise us:

    "As you demonstrate the charity that true followers of Jesus Christ manifest, the Lord will magnify your efforts beyond your loftiest imagination." (18)

    Charity, and all that it implies, was the solution for the Corinthian's disunity. It is also the solution for our covenant community today. If we want to "see others as God sees them" we must pay the spiritual price of asking and undergoing the refining process that will enable the bestowal of that spiritual gift.

    Instead of trying to 'fake it till we make it', our mind can become clearer as to what we are actually seeking and how we are to actually get it. If we are praying with all the energy of heart, but rarely darken the door of a temple, we are probably not ready for the power or gift.  The oft-said desire to "see Heavenly Father's children as He sees them" will be given to one who not only sweats in their service of others but who revels in revelation. The reverse is true, it won't be given if we revel in revelation and not sweat in the service of others. It will be given to those who comprehend what it means to have power in the priesthood and not just to those who desire to have a twinkle in their eye for humanity. It will be given to women who learn how to access priesthood power.


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