Thrust Statement: One should never exercise his freedom to the destruction of another.

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 2:1-11


“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).[1] Christians frequently approach this text (11:1) without a guidepost. One’s interpretation of this passage is frequently dependent upon the guesses of the interpreter, not the context. In the absence of a barometer, or context, one encounters many speculations that vary widely, depending on the belief system of the interpreter. As a result of no concrete gauge, one witnesses disagreements among many godly interpreters of Holy Scripture. When one begins with a faulty conception of the meaning of a passage in question, one is able to find his or her expectations fulfilled. In order for one to interpret the Word of God correctly, one must have a measurement, that is to say, a context, or background. This introduction focuses on the principles of sound biblical interpretation in order to have some ground rules for deciphering the text(s) in keeping with the Spirit’s intent. This preliminary work is essential since many Christians just take the instructor’s word without an investigation on their own.

 Within certain fellowships, one becomes conscious that there is a shared consensus as to the meaning of certain passages, interpretations that have been learned and passed on from generation to generation. One objective of this essay is to explore one of numerous texts that are commonly cited in order to maintain purity within a particular fellowship. This study is an examination of Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 11:1, which is the only proper foundation for understanding. The author’s meaning is accessible through his language and context. One, sometimes, must reject the traditional rationalization promoted by certain factions within the body of Christ because the explanation is wrong.

The true meaning is the sense represented by the text itself. When an interpreter deviates from the intended meaning of a word or text, this deviation leads to confusion and to division. One must never cite a Scripture out of context in order to build a particular brand of orthodoxy around the isolated Scripture. When one ruthlessly abandons the author as the determiner of his text’s meaning, then every analyst becomes the decisive factor by which the text or particular word is established. Unfortunately, one’s commitment to the authority of God’s Word is too often one’s loyalty to the authority of tradition or the interpreter. One should never forget that the Christian community could be wrong in its interpretation of Scripture. One can identify with Robert Johnston when he says, “A text must be treated within its full unit of meaning.” [2]


When Christians approach the interpretation of any passage, one must always allow love to be a controlling factor in his or her relationship with the brother or sister who espouses a different perspective. Love makes allowances for imperfection in knowledge. In order for one to extent toleration for differences, there must be love—love is the glue or cement that holds God’s people together (1 Corinthians 13). For one to properly understand love and unity, one must look at the entire New Testament range of evidence. Even though this essay cannot explore the entire range of evidence about love in the New Testament, it does focus on 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1 in order to draw conclusions that will lead to greater unity among a people that are divided on every street corner, all in the name of biblical purity.

What does love have to do with 11:1? Love is the motive behind Paul’s emphasis on following his example. For one to fully comprehend the impact of Paul’s admonition about following his model, one must explore love as the motivating factor as the drive behind Paul’s admonition to follow his pattern in dealing with Christians whose knowledge is not up to par. In order to develop the theme of love and unity with greater clarity, it is helpful to look at the problems that Paul encountered in Corinth and Rome. How did Paul handle the problems that were about to cause divisions within these two congregations? First, in Paul’s letter to Corinth, he encouraged the believers to follow his

example of love—a love that resulted in concern for the uninformed: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

This verse is frequently employed in such a way that it nullifies the meaning (intent) of Paul. When Christian interpreters disengage the text from its context, this maneuver leads to disunity among God’s people. One must always exercise caution that he or she does not move from “behind” the text to “in front” of the text. This change in venue allows the interpreter to manipulate the text to coincide with his or her own presuppositions. One must permit the intention of the text to govern his or her insight; otherwise, one employs the Bible as a weapon to uphold his or her own traditions. One must never study to be consistent, but rather one must study for truth. Justo Gonzalez and Catherine Gonzalez remind their readers that one “must learn to reevaluate and reinterpret what has been handed down to us.”[3]

 As a young preacher, I made use of this Scripture to justify my separation from other Christians who did not see eye-to-eye with me on the use of one-cup in the Lord’s Supper, Sunday school, instrumental music, and so on. This misuse of 1 Corinthians 11:1 is still alive on planet earth. In fact, I recently received an email (September 3, 2003) about this verse from a former member of this segment of God’s people. This individual wanted to know if one could substitute the word commandments for the word example, which is what many within this movement still do. The word commandments is generally identified with the concept of a Sunday morning worship service—a service that revolves around five rituals carried out in a prearranged way—no departure from the established creed is allowed without fear of castigation.

At one time, in my early ministry with the one-cup and non-Sunday school movement, I interpreted “example” as one-cup and non-Sunday school, and so on.  But is this what Paul meant by “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”? The answer is, No! Regrettably, some Christians still substitute the word commandments for the word example. As stated above, some Christians identify “commandments” with the so-called five acts of worship associated with a so-called worship service on Sunday morning. Such a deduction inhibits an honest critical testing of context in order to try to arrive at a correct interpretation of how Paul utilized the word example. My early traditions made it almost impossible for me to read the Word of God accurately.

This author (Dallas Burdette) employed 11:1 to reinforce his interpretation of the Lord’s Supper pericope in 11:17-34. From this reading, I arrived at the conclusion that Paul enjoined one container in the distribution of the fruit of the vine and one undivided loaf that had to remain in one piece since Christ’s body is one. This interpretation also led to a division within the one-cup movement that degenerated into two more camps—bread breakers and bread pinchers. The movement had already divided into the wine only versus the grape juice only fellowships. With the long-established interpretive grid of 11:17-34 among the one-cup community, I automatically associated “follow my example” as dealing with the one-cup in the Lord’s Supper. My predetermined interpretive grid limited my interpretation. Without an awareness, or consciousness, this interpretation occurred through a predetermined interpretive filter.[4]

In order for one to avoid his or her own “interpretive filter,” one must learn to unpack the biblical text in which a text is found. As a result of one’s presuppositions, one often reads into the Scripture his or her own likes or dislikes rather than reading out of Scripture what is actually there. This mindset often tends to confuse the Scriptures with one’s own interpretation. From this approach, if someone disagrees with one’s perception of Scripture, the one who disagrees is unsound. The time-honored traditional approach—the word command for example—allows for a methodological line of attack that forces custom into its own little box. On the other hand, an inductive approach is more faithful to the text. When one approaches the Scriptures deductively, this “allows for a tidier package, but only by stuffing all the loose ends into its box.”[5] Once more, Robert Johnson correctly writes: “To begin, a deduction inhibits an honest critical testing of the data. Instead of listening openly to the words of Scripture, a norm is set up concerning their meaning, and then the evidence is made to conform to it.”[6]

The established interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:1 is frequently argued—sincerely—from within one’s own doctrinal tradition, not context.[7] God’s Word must not be approached as proofs or arguments in favor of some theological position, such as stated above. One should never espouse opinions and statements unrelated to the meaning of the context. This text (11:1) is an excellent example of “love” and “faith” in the Ephesian epistle and the Book of Revelation. As one approaches the context of 1 Corinthians 11:1, one quickly discovers that this isolated Scripture is simply the climax of Paul’s plea for toleration of concern that began in chapter 8. The larger unit consists of 8:1—11:1. In this bigger section, one witnesses Paul’s example of apostolic freedom and social responsibility within the Christian community (9:1-23) and the examples of Paul and Israel in which he stresses the necessity of self-control (9:24—10:13) in spite of one’s right to participate in an activity that is not condemned by God. And, finally, Paul puts the accent on the believer’s freedom and his practice of give-and-take (10:14—11:1).

Two Controversial Issues

            In this larger unit (8:1-13 and 10:14—11:1), Paul discusses two issues: (1) the eating of meat sacrificed in a pagan temple and sacrificial meat on sale in the market place, and (2) eating meat at a table in an idol’s temple. These were questions that Paul dealt with in this larger section of Scripture. As one examines 8:1, 4 and 8:10, one observes that in verses one and four, Paul deals with the eating of meats sacrificed to idols, but, on the other hand, verse ten calls attention to the eating of meats at the table in the temple. The following chart should assist one in grasping these two problems:

1 Corinthians 8:1, 4

1 Corinthians 8: 10

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. a Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.


So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.



For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?


            In 1 Corinthians 8, one observes the “knowing ones” and the “unknowing ones.” Paul begins with a statement about knowledge: “We know that we all possess knowledge” (8:1b), but Paul makes another astounding statement: “Knowledge puffs up” (8:1c). It is true that certain individuals possessed correct knowledge as to the eating of meats, but, at the same time, some, so it seems, allowed their correct understanding to puff them up and to haul-over-the-coals the ignorant Christians in this matter of eating meats sacrificed in the idol’s temple and then sold in the market place.

Even though some were right and some were wrong concerning the eating of meats sold in the market place, Paul zeros in on the glue or cement that could bridge the differences in order to maintain unity within the body of Christ. One word stands out—the word love. Paul expresses the importance of love this way: “love builds up” (8:1d). Paul nips-in-the-bud the know-it-all attitude by saying: “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (8:2). In other words, every individual is in the same boat; no one has perfect knowledge. Truth is absolute, but our knowledge of absolute truth is relative.

            How does God react to those who love Him but do not have perfect knowledge? Paul explains by saying: “But the man who loves God is known by God” (8:3). This statement is one of the most profound statements in the entire Bible. God looks at the heart. Even though a man or a woman’s knowledge may be defective in certain areas, God still wants to know whether this individual loves Him. If so, Paul says that the “man who loves God is known by God.” Christians must exercise caution in their relationships with other believers. In spite of defect in discernment, one does not want to castigate one whom God loves. After Paul develops his own behavior in relationship to others whose knowledge is defective, he writes:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

            To return to 1 Corinthians 8, Paul deals with another assertion: “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (8:4). In other words, one who is a monotheist (believer in one God) does not accept the reality of idols. In verses 5-6, Paul gives his statement concerning belief in one God:

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

            In spite of the belief of some recently converted to Christianity, still many Christians, even though they confess one God and one Lord, have reservations about eating meats to idols. Some were not sure about the validity or non-validity of other gods. As stated earlier, some were right and some were wrong. How should Christians react toward those whose knowledge is defective? Paul, once more, goes to the very heart of unity in diversity: “But not everyone knows this” (8:7). Paul continues by saying:

Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do (8:7-8).

            The eating of food sacrificed to an idol and sold in the market place is not sinful in and of itself. Paul could say, “We are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” What kind of example should the Corinthians exhibit toward those whose knowledge was faulty in this regard? Paul sets forth a pattern that every Christian should exemplify in his or her own reaction to other believers: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (8:9). Paul will develop this characteristic in his own life in reference to others. It is this kind of attitude that Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul also makes the same argument to the Romans when he discusses the effects of one’s behavior toward other Christians:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food b is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died (Romans 14:13-15).

            The attitude expressed in Romans 14:13-15 is a reflection of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthian 8:1d: “love builds up.” In the first part of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul draws attention to the eating of meats sacrificed in the temple and sold in the market place, but, in 8:10, he discusses another issue—going to the idol’s temple and eating food at their table. Paul forbids this kind of behavior (10:14-23). To participate in their festivities would be tantamount to participation in idolatry. In 10:14—11:1, Paul deals with the same two problems in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. In 10:14—11:1, Paul focuses on these two topics in chapter eight in reverse order. In 10:14-22, he treats the matter of eating at table in the idol’s temple, but in 10:23—11:1, he discusses the eating of sacrificial meats sold in the market place.

Paul’s Example: Apostolic Freedom and Social Responsibility

            As examined above, Paul uses himself as an example of freedom, but, at the same time, his social responsibility to the church is paramount in his actions. In one’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 9:1-23, one must be cognizant that 9:1-23 is within the larger unit of 8:1—11:1. In this section (9:1-23), Paul demonstrates his example of foregoing financial support in order that he might not hinder the spread of the Gospel. Paul goes right to the kernel of the matter about rights when he says: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord (9:1)?  Paul submits four questions that set the stage to encourage the foregoing of what one might have the right to do in order to win others to Christ. Paul sets forth the kind of example that he wanted the saints to adhere to. Even though he had the right to financial support, he foregoes it for the sake of the church in Corinth.

            Did Paul have the right to expect monetary support for his evangelistic endeavors? In 9:7-12, Paul develops his arguments to prove that he had a right to count on compensated assistance. In verse seven, Paul give three analogies—soldier, farmer, and shepherd—to prove that one who works in the spiritual kingdom has a right to expect financial support for his or her labor. Paul even cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to bolster his right to collect economic assistance, even though he declined this privilege. It is in this fashion that he writes with firmness about the legitimacy of financial support:

Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”b Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you (9:8-11)?

            This refusal to accept pecuniary backing is a classic example of 1 Corinthians 11:1. In 9:12b, Paul writes: “we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”  The second unit of chapter 9 is found in verses 13-23. Once more, he uses the form of a rhetorical question in order to establish his entitlement to economic funds, even though he has not exercised this prerogative. Paul enumerates more evidence to give validity to his arguments that one does have the right of support for preaching the gospel. He calls attention to those who work in the temple and those who minister at the altar (9:13) to garner support for his right to support. But, he did not stop with the temple and altar; he called forth the words of Jesus: “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel (9:14). In spite of this evidence in favor of monetary support, he refused this right (9:12, 15). He gives his reason for not accepting money in this particular situation:

19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (9:19-23).

In this section of Scripture, Paul sets forth his apostolic freedom and slavery to those he wished to win to Christ.  Christians need to emulate this kind of example in their relationships with other believers. This attitude of social responsibility is what Paul refers to when he writes: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (11:1). To apply 11:1 to one cup, non-Sunday school, accapella music, kitchens in church buildings, women cutting their hair, women wearing scarves on their head when they pray, and so on, is to totally miss the intent of 11:1.

Paul’s Example: Necessity of Self-Control

            Paul uses a second example for unity—self-control. In this next scenario (9:24—10:13), Paul uses the examples of a runner, a boxer, and a wrestler to remind the Corinthians that they must not be over confident in their walk with God (9:24-27). Then, in 10: 1-13, he uses Israel as an example of losing their status before God for their ungodly behavior.  Entering a contest does not guarantee winning the prize. Paul goes right to the heart of the matter of self-control in one’s behavior, when he writes with vigor to practice self-discipline:

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (9:26-27).

            Paul’s paradigm of his own personal life of social responsibility toward others is a characteristic that Paul wanted all Christians to imitate. Paul utterly refused to use his freedom in order to put a stop to someone being destroyed spiritually. It is in this regard that Paul issues his warning:

For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall (8:10-13).

Yet, there is another aspect to consider concerning this admonition about obtaining the prize.  To fully grasp this short pericope (9:24-27), one should also focus on 10:1-13. Apparently, Paul is warning the Corinthians about going to the idol’s temple and participating in their feast, which he addressed earlier in 8:10. Thus, Paul issues a warning about eating at the table in an idol’s temple (9:24—10:13). He immediately uses Israel as an illustration in warning them about being over confident of their standing before God. In the first six verses of chapter ten, Paul calls attention to the spiritual blessings of Israel with a word of warning. In 10:1-2, Paul enumerates these blessings: (1) our forefathers were all under the cloud, (2) all passed through the sea, (3) all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (4) all ate the same spiritual food, and (5) all drank the spiritual drink. This section (9:24—10:6) is a warning to the Corinthians that they were not to engage in idolatry by going to the idol’s temple. The Corinthians were to follow Paul’s example in not going to the idol’s temple to participate at the altar of demons.

The second unit (10:7-11) in the larger pericope (9:24—10:13) contains four negatives, followed by a warning (10:11). In the first section (10:1-6), as noted above, one observes five clauses with a warning, but, in this section, Paul zeros in on four negative statements to reinforce his warning about idolatry. He cautions them not to engage in idolatry as some of the Israelites did (10:7); he warned them not to indulge in sexual immorality as some did (10:8); he counseled them not to test the Lord as many of the Israelites did (10:9), and, finally, he forewarned them about grumbling (10:10).

Paul draws conclusions about the Lord’s Supper and Idol’s Feast. For one to go to the idol’s temple was to engage in idolatry (10:14). One cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons at the same time. When one drinks the cup of the Lord, one participates in the blood of Christ. When one eats of the bread, one participates in the body of Christ. On the other hand, the sacrifices of those in pagan temples are offered to demons, not to God (10:20). This kind of action (going to the idol’s temple) is strictly forbidden. Just for one to participate in the Lord’s Supper is not a guarantee of spiritual security; one must forsake idolatry and sexual immorality. Israel is a classic example of those who experienced many spiritual blessings but were destroyed. A Christian must not give offence to his fellow believer or to God. Every Christian must shun the worship of idols (10:14).

In conclusion to Paul’s arguments, he discusses the believer’s freedom in Christ (10:23—11:1). Apparently, Paul cites their feelings: “Everything is permissible” (10:23). Yet, Paul argues, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (10:24, see also Christ’s example in Philippians 2:1-11). As one glances back over the larger section (8:1—11:1), one discovers that the first issue dealt with eating food sacrificed to idols (8:4-7; 10:23—11:1). Some, so it seems, argued that it was all right to eat meat sacrificed to idols since idols are not gods. As a result of this mindset, some were saying, “Everything is permissible.” One should never exercise his freedom when others are hurt by one’s actions (8:7). Paul reminds the Corinthians that a Christian is always concerned about others (10:24, 33). Paul goes right to the root of the problem as he seeks to discard all the underbrush that prevents one’s concern for the one who is weak:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (10:31—11:1).

For Paul, Christians should never engage in any activity that might endanger their own spiritual lives. He hammered home the point that “Christian freedom is freedom for others and for Christ.”[8] First Corinthians 13 is the climax of what started off in 1 Corinthians 8. If one wishes to understand “love,” one must read chapter 13. One can hardly read chapter 13 without a consciousness that love breaks out—goes far beyond—the circle of enumerated heroic achievements. In the first three verses of this chapter, Paul describes man. All of these gracious acts are vain if one does not have love. Pay attention to Paul as he leaves all human values and ascends to the summit of love:

If I speak in the tonguesa of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,b but have not love, I gain nothing.

            If one possesses the gift of prophecy, if one can fathom all mysteries, if one holds all knowledge, and if one has a faith that could remove mountains, but does not have love, it is all for nothing, according to Paul. In this chapter Paul stresses that there is an end to the gifts of grace (vv 8-11), but all of these graces shatter in the presence of love if they do not become one with it, the greatest gift of all is love.  It is very difficult for some Christians to pass from then to now in their application of Paul’s climax to what he had begun in Chapter 8.

This inability to pass from the then to now is especially true today in the very stiff denominational system of ecclesiastical control exercised by many believers within the Churches of Christ, especially the dictatorial interpretation of some preachers and elders. Within many Christian fellowships, one discovers that their doctrine is a doctrine that is frozen in time—a doctrine with denies the liberty of interpretation. As a result of this mindset, love is thrown out the window. This sectarian spirit can be described as “conscientious factionalism,”[9] that is to say, they are not conscious of their factionalism. This denominational narrowness throws out love. If one does not speak their language and understand their thoughts, one receives the axe. In former times, one went to the stake. Many Christians still made uniformity of doctrine the basis of a true church and the basis of love. How does Paul speak of love in the face of differences within the community of Christ?  In verses 4-7, Paul paints a very vivid picture of love:

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

            In these four verses, Paul sets forth the very essence of love. The style and rhythm of these sentences are more than marks of external form or just writing style; he joins one sentence to another with emphasis upon love. One quickly discovers that love does not place itself beyond the tender conscious of the weak. In 8:1—13:13, Paul calls attention to the behavior of some who sought to elevate their knowledge to the point of destroying the one who did not have perfect understanding. This kind of behavior was the very opposite of the teachings of Jesus. One should not cut himself or herself off from the weaker brother or sister in Christ on the basis of knowledge.

For Paul, love is “not self-seeking.” Love does not seek it own way and bitterness remains far from love. In verses 8-13, one discovers that the permanence of love is the miracle that can be measured in the face of the passing of all the other gifts of grace. In 1 Corinthians 8:2, Paul shows that love toward God—not knowledge—is the basis of one being-known-by-God. In this entire section (8:1—13:13), Paul sought to ward off the enthusiasm for redemption based on knowledge rather than the message of the Cross. Is it any wonder that Paul begins this Epistle with these words: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). In chapter 13, Paul develops a definition of love that is unknown in the ancient world. Günther Bornkamm points out with Justice:

There is no reason to make this chapter into a great sentimentality, if one takes seriously the unflinching antithesis in what it says. . . . Because it is a reality so living, concrete and variedly effective in detail, as it is described in 4—7, and at the same time it is the all-embracing power of God, put into force in the midst of this world as the love of God in Jesus Christ: “The love of Christ holds us bound,” controls us (II Cor. 5:14). . . . From this love and in this love the church has its life.[10]


            First Corinthians 11:1 is about love for one another. It is about condescension. This loaded passage is about toleration; it is about the mindset of Christ. This passage is about the true measurement of love in one’s relationship with other believers? In love one sees the permanent presence of salvation as the bond of perfection. Paul, too, captures this concept in his epistle to the Colossians:  “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14).  Love in 1 Corinthians 13 is not the self-perfection of man, but rather it is the outcome of the redemption accomplished in Jesus Christ. It is in this vein that Jesus says with a great deal of concern: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). It is in this same vein that Paul issues his exhortation for unity in spite of differences: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). Again, Paul writes to the Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:14-15).

            What does “just as Christ accepted you” mean in your relationship with other believers? Is love and unity prerequisite to winning individuals to Christ? How can Christians praise God and win the world? It is through love and unity. Why have I written so much on this short verse (1 Corinthians 11:1)? It is simply that I want the world to know and believe that God sent Jesus as the savior of the world. In Jesus’ final hours, He prays to the Father about this unity:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).


[1]All Scripture citations are from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), unless stated otherwise.

[2] Robert K. Johnston, Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979, second printing 1984), 69.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez and Catherine G. Gonzalez, Liberation Preaching: The Pulpit and the Oppressed (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980), 31.

[4] In defense of the ones who taught me, one must say that these men were very godly men—men who loved God more than anything else in the world. They were men of their own culture and time. They did the very best that they knew in handling the Word of God. They inherited a particular way of interpreting the Bible, which interpretation frequently created division among many godly men and women.

[5] Robert K. Johnston, Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979), 38.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For a detailed study of “context” and the basic principles of how to interpret the Word of God, see Dallas Burdette, “First Timothy 2:9-15: Literalism and Isolationism of Scripture” [ONLINE]. Available from [accessed 12 January 2004] located under caption Sermons and Essays and then under subheading Women: Their Role in the Church.

            a Or ``We all possess knowledge,” as you say

b Or that nothing

            b Deut. 25:4

[8] Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Revised Edition (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2002), 81. I recommend this book for everyone’s reading.

            a Or languages

                b Some early manuscripts body that I may boast

[9] A phrase coined by Bob Lewis.  Lewis is a very profound writer and thinker and professor. I am indebted to him for his tireless labor in handling my website. He designed the site and maintains this website on a regular basis.

[10] Günther Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 188.