The fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians now deals with specific problems concerning spiritual gifts in the assembly of the Christians in Corinth. The apostle Paul has taught these Christians that we are nothing without love and everything we do must be motivated by love. Love is the greatest gift and only faith, hope, and love will endure until the return of Christ. Therefore, the goal is to pursue love.
We have spent the last few lessons noticing how Paul taught that these spiritual gifts were going to pass away. We also noted that the gifts that many claim to have today (like tongue speaking and prophecy) do not match what we see in the scriptures concerning what those gifts did. First Corinthians 14 is going to show us that even if these gifts still did exist today, the churches that claim to have these gifts do not obey the directions that Paul commands here. Therefore, we are going to consider two keys in our study today. First, we will notice how spiritual gifts were to be practiced among Christians. Second, we will learn about how we should worship God in our assemblies today based on the directions given by Paul. The fourteenth chapter probably gives us the most information about what an assembly of Christians looked like in the first century.
Desire To Build Up The Church (14:1-5)
Paul begins by telling these Christians that desiring spiritual gifts is good. Paul has not given these instructions about the ending of spiritual gifts so that they would reject these gifts. Paul is trying to teach them that they must not overemphasize having these gifts, particularly the gift of languages (tongues). Desire gifts and understand the great value of prophecy (14:1). Paul says that tongue speaking alone is not useful. Tongue speaking does not help other people in the local church because people do not understand the language being spoken. One can easily imagine how this would be true. Imagine in our congregation a person had the miraculous spiritual gift of speaking in German. Is that gift going to be useful to us in our assemblies? No, it will not. His words will only be spoken to and understood by God. Those words would not be spoken to or understood by the congregation. By contrast, Paul says that prophecy helps all the church (14:3). Therefore, the tongue speaker only accomplishes one thing: building himself up. The person with the gift of prophecy, however, is able to build up all the Christians. This is why prophecy is the greater gift (14:5). Unless there was a person to interpret the language, the gift of tongues was useless in the assembly.
Notice the emphasis made in verses 3-5. Three times Paul emphasizes that gifts were to be used for the building up of the body. Tongue speaking does not benefit the church unless there is an interpreter. Paul condemns the way they were using their gift of speaking in another language (tongue speaker) because the only person being built up was the speaker. This is exactly what we see in churches today that claim to practice tongue speaking. They are not helping anyone but themselves and are simply building up their pride. This is unacceptable and violation of God’s law because we are to come together to build each other up. Verse 3 says that we are together for upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation. Any action in life and particularly in our assembly that is the drawing of attention to ourselves rather than the Lord and his word is sinful.
Further, this description defines our purpose when we come together. The stated goal is that the church (which is the people of God) is built up. This is why we are never going to give you a coffee when you come through the door. This is why we do not show movies on the screen. This is why we are not going to run fundraisers. This is why we are not holding entertainment activities. None of these activities lead us to spiritual upbuilding. We are not going to back campaigns, charities, or other social activities. The church has a single purpose in our assembly to spiritually build people.
Unintelligible Sounds Help No One (14:6-12)
Paul presses the uselessness of the gift of tongues without an interpreter even further in verses 6-12. Tongue speaking is nothing more than noise without interpretation. The gospel cannot be proclaimed in tongues alone in an assembly. There is no help to the people unless a revelation is given. The result is that they are speaking in the air. This is true again today. Those who claim to be speaking in tongues are not helping anyone with their words. They are simply speaking to the air.
We noted in prior lessons that speaking in tongues was the speaking in a foreign language that is on earth. Verse 10 proves our conclusion. There are many different languages of the world and all of them have meaning. But if the meaning is not given, then there is no value in the gift. They were not speaking “angelic language.” There is no such thing. First Corinthians 13:1 is Paul using hyperbole to make a point. The gift of tongues was speaking in foreign languages that the speaker was not trained in speaking.
Engaging The Mind (14:13-19)
Interpretation is critical because the mind must be engaged to have proper worship (14:13). The person with the gift of tongues may be using the gift but the mind is unfruitful (14:14). The use of spiritual gifts must be paired with the use of the mind (14:15). Paul says that the use of their spiritual gifts must be useful to knowledge. Otherwise, no one knows what you are saying (14:16) and the church is not being spiritual built up (14:17). Notice verse 17 carefully. What you are doing with your gift might be godly, but it is of no help. If others are not helped by the words spoken, then there is no point to speaking. Therefore Paul would rather speak five words that are understandable rather than 10,000 words in a tongue (14:19). This is why love is the greatest gift. Love for each other determines how we speak and act. Spiritual upbuilding is what we are supposed to give toward each other. If I am not speaking words that are for the building of your faith and knowledge of God, then you must stop supporting me. We assemble so that everyone can be edified.
Be Mature (14:20-25)
It is time to be mature in thinking. Battling, bickering, and competing with other Christians are marks of spiritual immaturity. Further, Paul uses Isaiah 28 to show that the gift of tongues was a sign for unbelievers. This is exactly how we see the gift used in Acts 2. The apostles spoke in tongues to preach the gospel and cause unbelievers to recognize that they were God’s servants and messengers. Speaking in tongues is not for the assembly of Christians. By contrast, prophecy was used for believers. Think about verse 22 for a moment. Have you noticed that those who claim to have miraculous spiritual gifts? They use tongue speaking for the assembly and try to give prophecies to unbelievers (like trying to predict the end of the world). God says that this is not why he gave the gifts. Tongues (speaking in languages) was to reach unbelievers. Prophecy was for teaching the church.
Therefore, our assemblies are to be conducted in such a way so that people are convicted to worship God. Verse 23 says that tongue speaking in the assembly will cause people to think you are crazy. How true this is! Yet people who do not have the gift, claim to have the gift, and use it during the assembly and cause God’s name to be blasphemed and mocked. Verse 24 tells us that we must be engaging the mind, teaching the very words of God, so that people will come in to our assembly, hear God’s word and worship him. This is the goal. Not only must we order our worship in a way so that our minds are engaged and we are spiritually built up, but we also must use our time in a way so that people who enter our assembly will hear God’s word and be convicted in their heart. Again, coffee, games, entertainment, charity drives, and the like do not accomplish this goal. We must not distract from the proclamation of the word of God. The word of God is the only thing that has the power to convict hearts and change lives.
We learned from our previous studies that the miraculous spiritual gifts were only given when an apostle laid his hands on a person. Once the apostles passed away, these gifts could no longer be given. When those in the first century had the gift of tongues, they were speaking earthly, foreign languages (14:10). Those who claim to exercise these gifts today do so in a way that directly violates the first 25 verses of 1 Corinthians 14. Tongues were not intended for the assembled congregation but for teaching unbelievers, working as a sign to the lost. The only value tongue speaking had in the first century was if there was an interpreter present.
Paul’s emphasis is that when we assemble that the goal is the spiritual building up of one another. Therefore, when we come together for our Bible studies, let us make sure that the words we choose to say are words that will build faith. When we offer prayers, we want to speak words that build up, encourage, and console (14:3). Our songs are words that build up our faith as we praise God. The Lord’s Supper memorial will be words that encourage our faith as we direct our attention to the cross of Jesus. Sermons must be centered on the word of God so that we are instructed, encouraged, and faith is built. With all that is going on in the world that challenges our faith and people in the world who try to do damage to our faith, when we come together we need time to strengthen faith.