This morning we are turning the page to a new chapter in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. As we begin our study of 1 Corinthians 14, I want to remind us that this is the last chapter of a larger section of the letter, beginning with 1 Corinthians 12, about spiritual gifts and their use in the context of the church that gathered for worship in Corinth.
The church in Corinth had its problems. They were enamored with certain spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, but they were clueless about their proper use. It was Paul’s desire to help them get back on track, to help them understand that the Holy Spirit had given each of them gifts to be used for the building up of the church. Way back in 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul reminded the people of Corinth.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 NIV)
The “common good” of their brothers and sisters in Christ was something the church in Corinth gave little thought. They failed to recognize the value of the wide diversity of gifts given by the Holy Spirit because they were so focused on themselves individually. John MacArthur writes,
Believers were in no spiritual condition to properly use true spiritual gifts or properly manifest true spiritual fruit. How could a congregation so worldly, opinionated, selfish, cliquish, envious, jealous, divisive, argumentative, arrogant, defrauding, inconsiderate, gluttonous, immoral, and desecrative of the Lord’s Supper exercise the gifts of the Spirit? For them to have done so would have defied every biblical principle of spirituality. You cannot walk in the Spirit while exercising the flesh (MacArthur, John. MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pgs. 370-371).
So, right in the middle of Paul’s discussion about spiritual gifts; their origin, purpose, and proper usage in the local church, Paul writes an entire chapter, chapter 13, on love, “agape” love. Just before he begins chapter 13, Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 12:31,
31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV)
“Eagerly desire the greater gifts.” This is what Paul will address beginning in 1 Corinthians 14. “The most excellent way” is the way of love. The Holy Spirit has given each and every one of us who are followers of Jesus spiritual gifts to be used for the building up of the body of Christ, yet, if we do not understand God’s purpose in giving us these gifts we will mangle and misuse them for our own advantage instead of for the building up of the body of Christ. Paul said as much in the opening of 1 Corinthians 13. Spiritual gifts that are not grounded and exercised in love, agape love for others, are worthless, beyond worthless, they can be destructive in our relationship with one another.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, will spend an entire chapter discussing two spiritual gifts: speaking in tongues and prophecy and their place in the worship service. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and we’ll see what we can learn.
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. 6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:1-12 NIV)
Did you notice how Paul lays the foundation for his discussion of speaking in tongues and prophecy by reminding the people to “follow the way of love?” The word “follow” is really too weak to describe the idea Paul is trying to impress on the people of Corinth and you and me as well. The Greek word, translated “follow,” is “????o” (dioko) and it means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after, to press on: used figuratively of one who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal. This word is in the present tense, pursuing love in every detail of our relationships with one another is to be a constant, habitual activity for you and me. Pursue love, agape love, with one another.
Paul goes on to say that as we pursue love, we are to “eagerly desire gifts of the spirit, especially prophecy.” The Greek word for “eagerly desire” is no less focused and passionate than the word for “pursue” and it is also in the present tense which means there are no days off in our desire for the Holy Spirit to use the gifts He has given us, especially the gift of prophecy, for the blessing and building up of this local body of believers.
Now, here’s something we need to recognize that is of great importance to us, both individually and corporately as a church body. When Paul writes, “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy,” it is in the plural form. He isn’t telling the individuals in the church that all of them should desire the gift of prophecy for themselves, individually, but he is telling the church, all of the believers in Corinth, to passionately desire that the Holy Spirit would bless their gatherings with the gift of prophecy. We don’t determine which gifts the Holy Spirit gives us as individuals. We don’t take a look at the lists of gifts given by the Holy Spirit and decide which gifts we would like to have. The Holy Spirit determines which gifts to give each of us and we are to use the gifts we have been given to bless and build up His people, His church. Do you remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:11? Let’s read it together.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11 NIV)
Paul knows that each and every gift possessed by each and every person is vitally important for the building up of the local body of believers. If that is the case, and it certainly is, then why does he single out two gifts, the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy, in this long chapter, chapter 14? That’s a great question! Let’s read verses 2-4 and we’ll talk about the answer to the question.
2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. (1 Corinthians 14:2-4 NIV)
Why did Paul single out these two gifts, the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy? In chapter 14, Paul is not focused on what goes on day-to-day in the lives of God’s people in Corinth. He has dealt with their day-to-day interactions in other parts of this letter. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul focuses on that time when all of the believers come together for worship. When the church gathers for worship the proclamation of the Word of God is crucial, essential, and central.
There really is no question about why Paul chose to compare the gift of prophecy with the gift of speaking in tongues. The Corinthians were overly impressed with the gift of speaking in tongues. The church in Corinth, instead of influencing the culture around them, had been greatly influenced by the Corinthian culture. The people of the church were living just like the people who frequented the temples of Apollo or Aphrodite. Some of the people were bringing practices from their pagan past into the fellowship of the body of Christ. Let me explain what I mean.
Satan loves to take what is God’s, and what God intends to use for the blessing and building up of His people, and twist and mangle it. We spent our entire time last week looking at agape love. Agape love is God’s desire for His people. Not only how we view and relate to God, but how we view and relate to one another. Yet, look at the mangled mess our world has made of love. Instead of being “other” oriented, worldly love is totally consumed with “self.”
Nothing has changed from the days of Paul in Corinth to our day today. There is still God’s standard, or God’s way, and then there is the way of the world. The practice of speaking in tongues was not an exclusive Christian practice. Speaking in ecstatic languages that no one could understand was a common practice at many of the pagan temples in Corinth. The followers of the god or goddess would drink and dance themselves into a frenzy while speaking unintelligible words that many of them believed to be communicating directly with the gods or goddesses. Some of the brothers and sisters who had converted from paganism brought their understanding of speaking in tongues with them into the church. Remember, for everything authentic that God gives us, Satan has a counterfeit. Paul didn’t tell those who had the gift of speaking in tongues that their gift wasn’t valid. As a matter of fact, in verse 18 Paul said,
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. (1 Corinthians 14:18 NIV)
Paul didn’t diminish or discredit the gift, but he did give them direction on when and how to use the gift. The gift should not be used in worship unless there is someone there to interpret what has been said because nobody, including the speaker, will understand unless God enables someone to interpret.
Just as there was the worldly practice of speaking in tongues in Corinth, so there was also the world’s wisdom which was not the wisdom of God. There were plenty of people in Corinth who were highly skilled at speaking and who were convincing in what they had to say about all matters of life. The Greek philosophers were as popular and well-known as our modern-day athletes and entertainers. Many of the brothers and sisters in Corinth had come out of this kind of background and Paul wanted to educate them about the difference between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:20-24 with me.
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:20-24 NIV)
Unless we know the history of ancient Corinth we won’t understand the point Paul was trying to make to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. The Greeks were enamored with philosophy, with those who possessed great powers of persuasion who were able to speak with authority and confidence, and many today are still interested in Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. John MacArthur writes,
The ancient Greeks were in love with philosophy, around which their culture was built. …They believed that philosophy was all-important. Philosophy provided a view, invented by man, of the meaning of life, values, relationships, purpose, and destiny. …Unfortunately many of the Corinthian converts carried their spirit of philosophical factionalism into the church. Some of them still held onto beliefs of their former pagan philosophy. …They could not get over their love for human wisdom. They had trusted in Christ and recognized their redemption by grace through the cross, but they wanted to add human wisdom to what He had done for them (MacArthur, John. MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 36).
Paul let the people know that even though Greeks look for wisdom he came to preach the power of the cross. The oratorical skills of the best Greek philosophers mesmerized the crowds, but Paul came to speak of the cross and its power to save lost people. What Paul did was prophecy, not philosophize. That leads us to the question, “What is prophecy? What does it mean to prophesy?” Literally, the Greek word for “prophesy” means “to speak forth by divine inspiration, to utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation.” Alan Redpath warns us not to put too narrow of a definition on the word. He says, “it literally means preaching, testimony, or witnessing in our daily lives.” Leon Morris describes prophecy this way.
Among the gifts Paul gives first place to prophecy (see on 12:10). This is something like our preaching, but it is not identical with it. It is not the delivery of a carefully prepared sermon, but to the uttering of words directly inspired by God (Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 183).
Throughout God’s Word those who prophesied were those who spoke for God. We need to keep that definition at the forefront of our minds whenever we think of modern-day prophets. If we are speaking for God, like an ambassador speaks for the country he or she represents, then we need to be really careful about what we say and make sure it aligns with God’s Word. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul writes,
3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV)
When we prophesy, or speak to others in worship, it should be to strengthen them in their walk with the Lord and with one another, it should be to encourage them in life, and it should be to comfort them in the trials and hardships they are experiencing in life. I have heard stories about how supposed modern-day prophets have told people who they should marry, that they should quit their job, and even what city they should live in by those who supposedly heard these things from the Lord. I don’t presume to know those things about God’s will for your life and furthermore, if God is Sovereign, and He most certainly is, then He is more than capable of communicating those things to you. God’s Word says we will be accountable for every word we speak. When we are speaking for God we must make sure that what we say aligns with God’s Word.
On Sunday morning, when we all gather for Bible study and worship, we most definitely should speak to one another in such a way that strengthens, encourages, and comforts. We should intentionally work to “edify” our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Greek word for “strengthen,” in verse 3, is the word, “oikodome,” and it means, “the act of building, building up, the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, and holiness.” This idea of edifying our brothers and sisters in Christ is found throughout chapter 14. It’s found in verse 3, twice in verse 4, once in verse 5, also in verses 12 and 17, and then, in verse 26, Paul writes,
26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NIV)
You and I, all of us who are followers of Jesus, must always remember that we have been given spiritual gifts, not so that we can promote or benefit ourselves, but so that we can help build up the entire body of Christ here at Britton Christian Church.
Not only are we to edify, or strengthen one another, but we are to encourage one another. There is no greater encouragement we can offer one another than the truths of God’s Word. The encouragement of God’s Word is more than “it will be ok.” The encouragement of God’s Word speaks life into weary bones and dry eyes. Paul used this same word for “encourage” in his letter to the people in Rome. Listen to this.
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6 NIV)
Everything written in God’s Word is given to you and me to provide the encouragement we need in this life. Our source of encouragement doesn’t stem from how good of a day we’ve experienced, but our Source of encouragement is God Himself! What a blessing! We are to remind one another of this truth over and over again.
Last of all, in 1 Corinthians 14:3, we read that when we prophesy to one another, when we speak for God to one another, we are to bring comfort. The Greek word here is really descriptive. It is a compound word, “para,” which means, “near or beside” and “mythos” which means speech. In John 11:19, we find the word used when Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus died. Listen to what happened.
19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. (John 11:19 NIV)
So we are to comfort one another in our grief, in our sorrow, with the comfort that we have received from the Lord. If this is what it means to prophesy; to edify, to build up, to encourage, and to comfort one another then no wonder Paul is so adamant about the importance of prophecy for a congregation. The very foundation of the practice of prophecy, of engaging in behavior that accomplishes the edification, encouragement, and comfort of God’s people, is God’s Word.
Paul highlights the central role of the gift of prophecy in the life of the gathered church because of its ministry to the whole body of Christ whereas the gift of tongues, Paul says, is for the edification of the speaker alone, unless there is an interpreter. What was true for the church in Corinth is also true for us at Britton Christian Church. Paul’s teaching centers around the context of public worship. We are to be mindful of the importance of building up one another in worship. I’m not to be fixated on my experience on Sunday morning, but instead I am to be fixated on worshiping the Lord of lords and the King of kings so that I will see those around me the way He sees them. If He is my focus then I will see you through His lens and your edification, encouragement, and comfort will become far more important to me than my own comfort and satisfaction with what goes on in worship on Sunday morning. We’re just getting started in our study of 1 Corinthians 14. There is so much more for us to learn, but let’s stop by reading the last verse in our study for this morning found in 1 Corinthians 14:12.
12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12 NIV)
We, all of us who are a part of the fellowship of believers at Britton Christian Church, are to eagerly desire for the Lord to bless us with every spiritual gift, but we are to make every effort, as a church, to excel in those gifts that build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a radical idea! It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It is totally about helping the entire body of Christ grow in our walk with the Lord and with one another.
I want to invite you, those of you who are not part of the body of Christ, you’ve never confessed your faith in Jesus, to take that step this morning. Do you believe that Jesus came to earth to make a way for you to be reconciled with God the Father? Do you believe that? Will you trust Him this morning and begin to walk with Him? If so, then we would welcome you to the family of believers here at Britton Christian Church.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 23, 2022
1 Corinthians 14:1-12