Before we get to our lesson for this morning I want to take a step back and talk for a moment about when brothers and sisters in Christ disagree. This is a perfect chapter of God’s Word to talk about how we should disagree because there is so much disagreement about the topic of prophecy and speaking in tongues. What should brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree about these topics “do” when they aren’t in agreement?
There are two paths we can choose that I’d like to briefly discuss with you. First of all, we can follow the ways of the world. When you realize that a brother or sister in Christ, that you had never known believes so differently than you about speaking in tongues for example, you can confront them with their errant ways. If they don’t come over to your side, then you can berate them, belittle them, and walk away while screaming “heretic” at the top of your lungs. That’s the climate of the society we live in today. You are aware of that if you are involved with social media at all. It’s called cancel culture. Sadly, over the past several years the Church has been greatly influenced by our culture in this area and we’re seeing more and more cancellations take place.
There is a second path we can choose, a more Christlike path. When we have a brother or sister in Christ who believes differently than we do on this topic of speaking on tongues or on the definition of prophecy, then we can talk about it, listen to what they believe, learn why they believe as they do, and recognize them as our brother or sister in Christ who believes differently on a “nonessential” matter. Your belief about speaking in tongues or my belief about the nature of prophecy is a nonessential, that is, they have nothing to do with redemption and salvation. The same is true for other nonessentials like the question of whether women can serve in leadership in the local church or whether someone is “pre-trib,” “mid-trib,” or “post-trib” in their understanding of what the Bible teaches about the end times. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are willing to walk away from one another, split a church even, if the other doesn’t agree with their understanding of what is really a nonessential.
I want to share some advice from one of my old dead preacher friends on how to relate to a brother or sister in Christ with whom you disagree on nonessentials. John Newton was born in 1725 and died in 1807. He had been a slave trader before Jesus radically changed his life. He became a pastor and hymn writer. Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” as a result of what the Lord had done in his own life. We’re still singing that song today.
Pastor Newton had a friend write to him about an article he was planning on publishing to blast another pastor who he thought was in error. Newton wrote him back and urged his friend to consider three things before he began to write: respecting your opponent, the public who will read the article, and last of all, consider yourself. Here’s a quote from Pastor Newton’s letter to his friend.
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write. If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts, and though you may fnd it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever. (John Newton, On Controversy)
That is gold, pure gold! So, when we disagree about something like speaking in tongues or the definition of prophecy, remember the words of John Newton. Another great Bible teacher, Augustine, once wrote, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and see what we can learn. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 14:13-25.
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: “With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:13-25 NIV)
In our Scripture for today, Paul picks up where he left off, by trying to teach the brothers and sisters in Corinth about the appropriate use of speaking in tongues, for those who have that spiritual gift, in the context of the gathering of the believers. Last week we learned that Paul told the church in Corinth that speaking in tongues was not to be allowed in the gathering of the brothers and sisters in Christ, unless there was someone who could interpret what was unintelligible to everyone else. In verse 13, Paul says the one who has the gift of speaking in tongues should pray for the ability to interpret. A little later, in 1 Corinthians 14:28, Paul writes,
28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Corinthians 14:28 NIV)
The big issue for Paul, when the church gathers, is understanding. When we are together, when we come together for worship or the study of God’s Word, it is so important for us to understand what is being communicated, what is being taught. This is what discipleship is all about–praying for the Holy Spirit to take the Word of God and give us understanding so that we will be moved with the desire to live out what we learn in our daily lives. This takes place in our own private times with the Lord, but it is so important that it also takes place when we all come together. D.A. Carson writes,
Whatever the place for profound, personal experience and corporate emotional experience, the assembled church is a place for intelligibility. Our God is a thinking, speaking God; and if we will know him, we must learn to think his thoughts after him. I am not surreptitiously invalidating what Paul has refused to invalidate. I am merely trying to reflect his conviction that edification in the church depends utterly on intelligibility, understanding, and coherence. (Carson, D. A., Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14. pg. 106.)
There is most definitely a place for “profound, personal experience” with the Lord. We are more than our mental faculties. We have emotions and those emotions have been given to us, created in us by God. Far too often today, we who are followers of Jesus, seek “emotional experiences” more than we seek truth. We want to “feel” God’s presence more than we want to know God’s presence. This is not just a problem of our day, it was a problem in Corinth as well. In verse 14, Paul writes,
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:14 NIV)
Paul, who will tell the people in Corinth, in verse 18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” says that when he prays in tongues, his mind is “unfruitful.” So what will Paul do? Will he stop using the gift of speaking in tongues that the Holy Spirit has given him? No way! Remember, he praised God for the gift. It’s not an either/or proposition for Paul. He tells us what he has chosen to do in verses 15-16. Read it with me.
15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. (1 Corinthians 14:15-16 NIV)
Paul says, “I’ll do both.” He will pray and sing with his spirit and he will pray and sing with his understanding, or with his mind. He would never pray or sing with his spirit in the gathering of the believers unless there was someone there to interpret what would otherwise be unintelligible to everyone else, but he would pray and sing with his mind in that gathering so that it would build up and benefit all of God’s people who had come together.
The Corinthians, and I believe the modern-day church has over emphasized our own personal experiences and the desire to experience tingly feelings when we come together with other believers. For some there is no greater certainty of God’s presence than to feel something. I want to encourage you this morning. I know what I’m talking about because I also have had experiences, powerful experiences, where I was so moved in the depths of my soul by an experience of God’s presence. I can remember those times like they happened yesterday. I’m not discounting those experiences at all, but what I desire to impress upon all of us this morning is this: God desires for you and me to experience Him with our minds as well. Just as He has given us emotions to experience the joy of the Lord and the comfort only He can bring when we are experiencing the depths of sorrow and grief, so He has given us a mind to learn and to know His truths about who He is, what He is like, who we are because of Him, and His purpose for our lives.
With our minds can experience deep fellowship and communion with God and our recognizing this was so important for Paul. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul urged them to “be of one mind.” In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul said, “We have the mind of Christ.” When Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Rome, he urged them to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice and not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Read Romans 12:1-2 with me.
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God– this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
Emotions or mind? Yes! God desires for us to experience Him with all He has created us to be. In the gathering of God’s people we must always remember that our priority is for the edification, strengthening, and comfort of those around us and not our own personal experience or expression. This was a huge problem for the people of Corinth. This is why Paul has taken an entire chapter to address the problem and to teach them about how to worship. In verses 18-19, Paul writes,
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:18-19 NIV)
Paul lets the people know that when he comes together with other believers he would rather speak “five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” The Greek word for “ten thousand,” the word, “murious,” and it was largest number in Greek, but for us today we know numbers much larger and Paul wouldn’t have hesitated to say, “I’d rather speak five intelligible words in the gathering of God’s people than to speak a trillion words in a tongue.”
Why would someone who cherished the gift of speaking in tongues say such a thing? Paul’s great desire was to do what would benefit the congregation and not himself. Public worship is for mutual edification, strengthening, and comfort and not personal edification, strengthening, and comfort. I do want to say that there is something marvelous, miraculous even, that takes place when we seek to minister to those around us and that is–we are ministered to. If you have ever experienced this then you already know what I’m talking about. I can come to worship on Sunday or teach a class during the week and if I’m down and discouraged or have had a bad day, but I remind myself of what the Lord has given me to do and then do it, I always and I mean always leave the gathering in a better place than when I arrived. Do you know what I mean? Let’s move on to the next verse, verse 20.
Oftentimes Paul will soften something he has to say which is pointed and direct by saying, “Brothers and sisters…” He never wants there to be any question that he loves those he is addressing and that they are all family. With that said, let’s read verse 20.
20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20 NIV)
Paul commands, he doesn’t suggest, but he commands. The verb he uses is a “present imperative,” meaning “stop it, now.” Stop thinking like children! Paul says they are to be like infants in regard to evil, but they are to think like adults. We’ve learned in our study of 1 Corinthians that they were anything but infants in regards to evil. There is so much that you and I know that our little ones don’t know about the evil and perverse ways of this broken world. We do everything we can to protect them for as long as we can so their innocence isn’t taken from them at a young age. Even more than this, we recognize that Jesus has called us from the darkness of living like the world into His glorious light of living for the glory of God and the blessing of those around us. Peter wrote,
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)
For the church in Corinth, they had either forgotten this truth or they simply didn’t care. Either way, they were living like the unbelievers in Corinth. Let me refresh our memories with a couple of things Paul brought to their attention. Early in our study we learned that Corinth was known for its sexual immorality, but Paul learned that there were things going on in the church that would even make the unbelievers in Corinth blush. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 we read,
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NIV)
In chapter 6, Paul was disgusted when he learned that they were dragging one another into court instead of dealing with their disagreements in house. Paul writes,
4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court– and this in front of unbelievers! (1 Corinthians 6:4-6 NIV)
Paul wanted the people of Corinth to be like young children or babies, completely oblivious and uninvolved about the evil ways of people and society. This is great advice for you and me as well. It is good to be innocent, childlike, when it comes to evil. Some people are fascinated by the dark side of life, but you and I are to steer clear. Ciampi and Rosner write,
It is good to be childlike when it comes to innocence, but not when it comes to critical thinking skills which are needed for mature Christian living for the health of a church. (Ciampi and Rosner. 1 Corinthians. pg. 697)
When it comes to thinking, Paul says, “Grow up! Stop thinking like children.” Paul doesn’t say that speaking in tongues is childish, rather the way they are insisting on their own way, the way they are not taking into consideration their brothers and sisters in Christ as well as unbelievers who might be with them, and the way they are misusing God’s good gift is childish. Paul has not suddenly recognized that the people in Corinth were immature believers. Way back in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul wrote,
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly– mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly… (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV)
All of us who are followers of Jesus were immature believers when we first came to know Jesus. I’ll be the first to admit it. All I knew was that God had convicted me of my sin and shown me there was nothing I could ever do to change who I was–I was a sinner. It was explained to me that God loved me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place so that I could be forgiven and reconciled to God. I believed it, confessed my sin, and asked Jesus to be my Savior. I knew nothing more. I was an immature believer. There are some of us here this morning who are immature believers, you are a baby Christian. That’s understandable, but the question is, “How do you move from the nursery to the grown folks table? How do you grow up in your understanding of the things of God?” That’s a great question and I’ve got an answer for you. Turn with me to 1 Peter 2:2-3.
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3 NIV)
What is the pure spiritual milk Peter tells us to crave like a newborn baby? It is the Word of God. There is no substitute for the Word of God for those who want to grow up and become mature followers of Jesus.
The irony of what Paul is saying to the people of Corinth is that those who were misusing the gift of speaking in tongues saw themselves as the enlightened ones, the one who were able to demonstrate how spiritual they were to everyone else, but Paul says grow up. David Garland writes,
This admonition is tied to his negative appraisal of their use of tongues in their worship. He has just said that tongues by-pass the mind (14:14). The implication is that the Corinthians’ fondness for tongues, at the expense of other gifts that use the mind, will result in their church degenerating into an unthinking, incoherent cult, more interested in entertainment than education. (Garland, David. 1 Corinthians. pg. 645)
This is such an important lesson for us as a church and I am so glad that we have Paul’s teaching on this topic. I have friends here at Britton Christian Church who have the gift of speaking in tongues. They’ve shared with me how blessed they have been. As a matter of fact, they sound like Paul when he wrote, “I am glad that I speak in tongues more than any of you.” God did not give me that gift, but I would never say that their gift is invalid. I simply encourage them to understand Paul shares with us in 1 Corinthians 14. In the gathering of the body of believers it is critically important that we speak in a way that everyone will understand so that our brothers and sisters will be edified, strengthened, and comforted.
Let me close by introducing you to a man named Karl Barth. He was born on May 10, 1886 in Basel, Switzerland. He has been called “one of the most brilliant and complex intellectuals of the 20th century.” He studied at the University of Berlin and Tubingen before becoming a pastor and later a professor of Systematic Theology. He was the principal author of the Barmen Declaration which was a document rejecting the influence of Nazism on the German church. Karl Barth wrote Church Dogmatics, a 14 volume, ten thousand page project that took him 35 years to write. In Church Dogmatics, Barth covers “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” “The Doctrine of God,” “The Doctrine of Creation,” and “The Doctrine of Reconciliation.”
Towards the end of his life, Dr. Barth was lecturing at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. After Dr. Barth had finished teaching the Bible, a student asked the renowned theologian, “Dr. Barth, could summarize the essence, the most profound thing, in your life work in theology in one sentence?” Dr. Barth paused for quite a long time as he thought about his answer. Then he raised his head and said, “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We are never more spiritual than when we understand the simple, but most profound truth in the history of the world-Jesus loves me.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 30, 2022
1 Corinthians 14:13-25