Finding Your Function, Part 3 (1 Cor. 14:1-12)
Some of us are like Christopher Columbus when it comes to our understanding:
He didn’t know where he was going.
He didn’t know where he was when he got there.
He didn’t know where he had been when he returned.
Eight times in this section, Paul used the word understanding. It is not enough for the minister to impart information to people; the people must receive it if it is to do them any good. The seed that is received in the good ground is the seed that bears fruit, but this means that there must be an understanding of the Word of God (Matt. 13:23). If a believer wants to be edified, he must prepare his heart to receive the Word (1 Thes. 2:13). Not everybody who listens really hears.
I. Paul's Invitation to Consider the Spiritualties in the Church at Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-3).
II. Paul's Proposition for the Purpose of Spiritualties in the Church at Corinth (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
III. Paul's Confirmation of the Purpose of Spiritualties in the Church at Corinth (1 Cor. 12:8-27).
A. Argument One: The Reality of Spirituality (1 Cor. 12:8-27).
B. Argument Two: The Identity of Spiritualties (1 Cor. 12:28-13:13).
C. Argument Three: The Qualities of Spiritualities (1 Cor. 14:1-11).
The elitist tendency of that church led some of them to regard all spiritual powers (ta pneumatika, 12:1) as a means of self-aggrandizement. Just as they used “knowledge” and “liberty” in ways careless of community identity (8:1–2; 10:23), so the spectacular gift of tongues seems to be claimed as a superior “sign of the Spirit.” Indeed, some may have been claiming that only tongues truly certifies the presence of the Spirit: “tongues is a sign for believers” (cf. 1 Cor 14:22).
1. Proper Patterns for Spiritualities (1 Cor. 14:1-5).
a. Foundation of Clear Communication (v. 1).
Prophecy: gifts are to be coveted, especially prophecy. Note two points.
a. Love is to be pursued above all else in life. Gifts, abilities, and service are important; but they pale into insignificance in comparison with love. Love is the greatest need and the supreme answer to all the needs of men. It is when we love a person that we meet the needs of a person. In fact, if we truly love a person, then we will do all we can to meet all the needs of that person.
⇒ The word follow (diokete) means to pursue, to persist, to continue on and on, never giving up until love is possessed.
b. Spiritual gifts are to be desired. We are to pursue love first, but this does not mean we are not to seek the spiritual gifts of God. On the contrary, the more we love God and men, the more we covet the gifts of God so that we can minister and help the world of men more effectively.
⇒ The word desire (zeloute) means to covet earnestly; to be zealous and ambitious for.
As if a veritable chase. Paul comes back to the idea in 12:31 (same use of ζηλουτε [zēloute]) and proves the superiority of prophecy to the other spiritual gifts not counting faith, hope, love of 13:13.
by which he means, not so much the gift of foretelling future events, though there was such a gift bestowed on some persons in those times, and, in certain cases, was very profitable to the churches; but a gift of preaching the word, or explaining the prophecies of the Old Testament, and of praying and singing of psalms, all which, as appears from some following parts of this chapter, were included in it; and that not in an ordinary, but in an extraordinary way; a person possessed of this gift could at once, without the use of means, or help of study, preach the word, and open the more difficult parts of Scripture; he had an extraordinary gift of prayer, which he could make use of when he pleased, and at once compose and deliver out a psalm, or hymn, in the public congregation.
We must not think of a New Testament prophet as a person who foretold the future, for even the Old Testament prophets did more than that. Prophets received God’s message immediately, through the Holy Spirit, and communicated that message to the church, usually in a tongue, but not always. Prophecy was not the same as our modern-day “preaching,” because today’s preachers study the Bible and prepare their messages. No preacher today should claim that he has immediate inspiration from God.
b. Failure of Clouded Communications (v. 2).
The mysteries Paul has in mind here are of the type associated with the pagan mystery religions, out of which many of the Corinthian Christians had come. Unlike the mysteries of the gospel, which are revelations of things previously hidden (Matt. 13:11; Eph. 3:9; etc.), the pagan mysteries intentionally remained mysterious, as unknown truths and principles that supposedly only the initiated elite were privileged to know.
The spirit to which Paul refers is not the Holy Spirit, as some interpreters claim, but the person’s own spirit, as implied in the Greek (locative case)
c. Framework of Constructive Communications (v. 3).
Note the importance being laid upon proclaiming the message of the gospel in understandable terms. Men can be reached and helped only as they can understand the message of believers. The point is clear: the primary message upon our lips must be the gospel, and it must be understandable to all men.
Do not be content merely to make a sound; say something. Seek to do actual service to others is one of the three directions suggested in v. 3. Edification is the building up of the soul in truth. Comfort is for the distressed and weary. Consolation is the heartening of the soul to fresh enterprise.
d. Focus of Christocentric Communications (v. 4).
i. Corrupted = Self-edification.
ii. Uncorrupt = Church-edification.
Keep in mind that the members of the Corinthian church did not sit in the services with Bibles on their laps. The New Testament was being written and the Old Testament scrolls were expensive and not available to most believers. God spoke to His people directly through the prophets, and the message was sometimes given in a tongue. The three gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and tongues worked together to convey truth to the people (1 Cor. 13:1–2, 8–11).
e. Favorable Counsel for Communications (v. 5).
Paul does not deny that the gift of tongues existed in the early church, that it was a valid gift, that it had a definite reason for existing, and that it was a worthwhile gift. He goes even further. He voices the wish that they all had this gift. At least there was some enthusiasm among those who had it, some sign of spiritual life. There is a parallel here to an incident in the life of Moses. Two men, Eldad and Medad, had the Spirit of the Lord resting upon them and “they prophesied in the camp.” The context reveals that they were, in actual fact, members of the group of seventy men to whom Moses delegated part of his administrative responsibilities. All the other members of this group were likewise prophesying For some reason these two were not with the others. Their sudden inspiration seems to have startled the people who were present. One of those there, a young man, ran to Moses to tell him what was happening and Joshua urged Moses to put a stop to it. Moses replied, “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them” (Num. 11:24–30).
Like Moses, Paul was not perturbed because some people spoke in tongues.
2. Possible Pitfalls of Wrong Patterns of Spiritualities (1 Cor. 14:6-11).
a. Paul the Preacher (v. 6).
In the previous chapter he said that tongues will cease. They will stop. That is the same word that we see posted on the highway. A traffic officer once told me that s-t-o-p means stop! I am afraid a great many folk do not understand what Paul is saying here: “Whether there be tongues, they shall stop.” It was Dr. A. T. Robertson who made this statement: “Tongues seem to have ceased first of all the gifts.” Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, writing in the third or fourth century, stated: “This whole passage is very obscure; but the obscurity arises from our ignorance of the facts described, which, though familiar to those to whom the apostle wrote, have ceased to occur.”
It is interesting to note that Jesus never spoke in tongues. There is no record of the apostles speaking in tongues after Pentecost. We do not have an historical record of Paul speaking in tongues or any sermon delivered in a tongue—although we know from verse 18 that Paul did speak in tongues because he said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.” I did not realize the import of this statement until I was in Turkey. I visited the ruins of the seven churches there, and obviously Paul had preached in all of them; then going way out into the interior, into Anatolia, I realized that Paul had walked across that section—all the way from Tarsus, his hometown. It is a distance of hundreds of miles, and in that section there was tribe after tribe speaking different languages. I have often wondered how Paul was able to speak to them. Well, he spoke as the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost. Every man heard him speak in his own tongue. He probably said to the Corinthians, “If you want tongues, go out on the mission field and start speaking in the languages of those people.”
Today God has raised up certain organizations like the Wycliffe Bible Translators who are attempting to translate the Bible into all the known tongues of the world. That, my friend, is the greatest tongues movement that I know anything about!
b. Mark the Musician (v. 7).
The Corinthians could especially appreciate the musical illustration because their city contained one of the great ancient music halls, seating about 20,000 people.
Each instrument, whether wind or stringed, must be distinguishable, otherwise all that is produced is a mere noise. Musical instruments are not played at random. There are laws that govern their use. The musician must know how to produce the various notes. He must know how to combine them into chords. If proper music is to result, he must observe such things as key and timing and volume. If various kinds of instruments are to play together there must be a score which tells each one when to sound and when to be silent. There has to be a conductor who rules over all. What kind of a tune would it be if each player went his own merry way, blowing into his pipe, striking at his harp, regardless of the laws of music and in defiance of the musical score and the conductor? Instead of having a symphony you would have a din. That was exactly what was happening at Corinth, especially with the “tongues” people.
c. Allen the Alarmist (v. 8).
And particularly the allusion may be to the two silver trumpets, ordered by God to Moses for the Jews, which were to be made of a whole piece, end to be used for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps, and to blow an alarm with when they went to war against the enemy, Numb. 10:1, 2, 9 and were a lively emblem of the Gospel, whose use is to gather souls to Christ, to direct saints in their journeying, and to prepare and animate them for battle, with their spiritual enemies; and of which use it is, when it gives a certain and even sound, as it does when clearly and rightly blown; and that is, the sound of love, grace, and mercy, to the sons of men, through a bleeding Saviour; salvation alone by a crucified Jesus, peace and pardon by his blood, justification by his righteousness, and atonement by his sacrifice; when it is blown aright, it blows a blast on all the goodliness of man, it magnifies the grace of God, exalts the person of Christ, debases the creature, shews its imparity, imperfection, and inability; and expresses the nature, use, and necessity of efficacious grace; and puts believers on doing good works for necessary uses, but not for life, righteousness, and salvation; and so its sound is equal, even, and certain: and when it is so, it is a means of gathering souls to Christ, the standard-bearer and ensign of the people; and of engaging them to enlist themselves as volunteers in his service; and of animating them to fight under his banner the battles of the Lord of hosts
If the bugler is not sure whether he is calling “Retreat!” or “Charge!” you can be sure none of the soldiers will know what to do either. Half of them will rush forward, while the other half will run back! The call must be a clear one if it is to be understood.
d. Terry the Talker (v. 9).
e. Danny the Diverse (v. 10).
The word for voices here signifies languages. Paul did not know how many languages there were. “Many kinds,” he says. According to the Wycliffe Bible Translators’ International Linguistic Center in Dallas, Texas, there are more than 5,000 known language groups in the world. These languages are all made up of various kinds of sounds, not one of which is unintelligible to those who speak them. But if these sounds mean nothing to us, then we are foreigners to those who make them and they are foreigners to us. To the Greeks anyone who did not speak Greek was a barbarian.
f. Carlyle the Confused (v. 11).
In each case, lack of communication makes the sounds worthless, and in the latter example it even distances us from the one who is speaking. Such is the case of uninterpreted tongues speech in the congregation (v. 9).
D. Conclusion: Concerning the Profitability of Spiritualities (1 Cor. 14:12).
Paul could find no fault with their desire to exercise their spiritual gifts. Indeed, he had already twice encouraged them along these lines (12:31; 14:1). However, their motive in desiring the various gifts must be right. Paul keeps hammering away at the central point. All verbal ministry in the local church must be for the building up of the body. It must contribute to the real growth of the church.
We have to make sure that if we’ve been given a tool or a gift, we use and apply it properly. A hammer and a saw are two different tools meant for two different purposes. Someone can try to saw a nail all he wants, but it won’t budge, and he may actually do damage to the nail. Similarly, he could try to hammer a piece of wood all he wants, but in the end he won’t be able to replicate the clean cut of a saw. If anything, he’ll have a broken, battered piece of wood. We are called to recognize the nature of the tools we’ve been given and to use them appropriately. No matter what tool an individual has been given, it is to be used for the upbuilding of the church through intelligible use.
Notwithstanding the fact that they were abusing the manifestations of the Spirit, Paul doesn’t tell the church at Corinth to dismiss “spirituals.” Nor does he tell them to deny them. He tells them to desire them.
If, after seeing a man who weighed four hundred pounds lumber down the street, you decided to give up eating altogether, you wouldn’t live very long. Yes, the man you saw may have eaten too much—but the answer to abuse is not non-use. It’s proper use.
So, too, the church at Corinth had a heavyweight problem. They had abused the manifestations of the Spirit. They had misunderstood the principles of ministry. But the answer was not to deny the work of the Spirit. The answer was to learn how to use the manifestations properly. Much of what we see today in the church is a reaction against those who have misused the gifts or the manifestations of the Spirit. However, the answer to that which is being abused is not to forsake, but to properly understand. This is what Paul presses for in the chapter at hand.