Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Paul meets Laozi: "a still more excellent WAY" (1 Cor 12:31-13:8)

Yung Suk Kim

Paul talks about "a more excellent way" in Christian life. Earlier, he talked about various gifts of God: for example, speaking in tongue or prophesying. The Corinthians were divided over the issue of which gift is greater or who are more gifted. But ultimately, all gifts should be informed by love, which is a more excellent way, according to Paul. Thus he says in 1 Cor 12:31-13:3:

But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor 12:31-13:3).

        "The way" in Greek is hodos . Paul says that the most important way of life is love, which is expressed concretely in a real life situation. It is an action verb, as he continues to say in 1 Cor 13:4-8:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end (1 Cor 13:4-8).

        I cannot help but think about Laozi, who wrote the Dao De Jing, a classical wisdom book, which means "the book of the way and virtue." In a way, Paul meets this ancient sage through his thought. Both of them talk about "the way." For Laozi, "the way" (dao) is a fundamental way of life that seeks the way of nature, which is the way of heaven. Like Paul, he seeks to explore a most excellent way of life through his short book. For example, Laozi says: "The way of heaven reduces what is excessive and supplements what is insufficient. The humanistic way is different. It reduces the insufficient and increases the excessive."

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