‘All this is Flashy Rhetoric about Loving You…’ C.S. Lewis

This post is dedicated to someone who taught me a lot about love— my sweet Christy girl, now with the Lord, but born on this day in 1979. I sure do miss you honey. Here is one of the first pictures I have of her when we brought her home from the hospital in Durham England.

One of the benefits of reading the NT with the help of Greco-Roman rhetoric is that it allows you to hear the text as much of the Gentile world in NT times would have heard it. A good small example of the difference this makes can be seen with a proper translation of 1 Cor. 12.31b. Paul here is announcing to his audience a change in rhetoric, more particularly what he is about to do in the famous Chapt. 13. So what exactly does he say to introduce that chapter? “I am now displaying (my point) according to a still more hyperbolic manner/way…”

Two points stand out like a sore thumb. The verb deikvumi Is the verb used in rhetoric to refer to epideictic rhetoric, the rhetoric of praise and blame, the rhetoric of display. Secondly, there is the word huperbole from which we get hyperbolic. It is indeed the rhetoric of display that was the most hyperbolic and grandiose of the three major species of rhetoric and Paul is giving fair notice here he plans to wax eloquent here in a way not hitherto demonstrated in this discourse, which is otherwise basically a deliberative discourse both before and after 1 Cor. 13.

In a sense then 12.31b is Paul’s heads up that something different rhetorically speaking is about to happen. This conclusion reinforces the correct conclusion that 12.31a goes with what has gone before this. Paul will not be talking about love as ‘the greatest gift of all’. He will talking about how love is the correct manner in which all gifts should be exercised. Love is certainly not one gift among many, even if one was to call it the most superior or excellent gift. AGAPE is the means or manner by which all gifts must be exercised. If one cannot do something in love, in this case exercise one’s spiritual gifts, it should not be done at all.

This exposition is confirmed at the other end of the epideictic passage at 14.1. Paul makes a clear contrast ‘pursue love, BUT seek the higher gifts’. Love is not among the gifts, not even the higher ones (which Paul goes on to say prophecy is in what follows). Love must be diligently pursued, as must loving ways. Gifts however can be sought from God at any time.

In 1983 there was a Sunday in Coleridge N.C. where I was preaching away at Concord UMC, and Christy girl had somehow escaped the nursery, run outside, and come in the main back door of the sanctuary. The subject of the sermon was—- you guessed it, love. Not stopping to catch her breath, Christy sprinted down the aisle with her little four year old legs and came straight up into the pulpit and leaped into my arms. A wise preacher knows when to quit. Instead of continuing to wax eloquent, I simply held up Christy who was beaming, and said “and here’s the living proof— love.” Amen and Amen.

Think on these things.

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