Edification, The Purpose Of Spiritual Gifts - 1 Corinthians 14a

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1 Corinthians 14:1-6

Stephen Caswell © 2000


The ancient Etruscans foretold the future by looking at sheep livers. They divided the liver into sixteen parts just as they had divided the heavens into sixteen parts. Certain gods ruled various parts of the heavens and would get into corresponding parts of the liver and give signs that provided guidance for people. How far removed that is from the guidance David wrote about: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105


Two weeks ago we saw the importance of love in the body of Christ. Love enables us to minister to each other effectively. It is the circulatory system of the body of Christ. Without love spiritual gifts accomplish nothing. Without love individuals promote themselves rather then edifying their brethren. When spiritual gifts are exercised in love the body is edified. Paul discusses the purpose of spiritual gifts in chapter 14. He shows the superiority of prophecy over tongues when it comes to building up the body, what he calls edification.

I.   Prophecy Is To Be Desired

II.  Prophecy Edifies The Church

III. Prophecy Is Greater Than Tongues

Firstly   Prophecy Is To Be Desired

1 Cor 14:1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

Again Paul emphasized the importance of love by commanding them to pursue it. Love was to be their primary pursuit as believers. Their desire for spiritual gifts would not be wrong if it was controlled by love. We must keep in mind that spiritual gifts have as their purpose the building up of the church of Jesus Christ and not the personal enjoyment of the believer. Gifts are for employment, not enjoyment. So Paul commanded them to pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. Why did Paul emphasize prophecy? What made it so important?  Paul gives us the answer to this question in the following verses, where he contrasts tongues and prophecy.


The Worlds Prophets


During the 1930's and 1940's, the London newspaper Sunday Express carried an astrology column by R. H. Naylor. Within a few weeks he predicted that Franco would never rule Spain, a united Ireland was imminent, and there would be no war in 1939. He explained that Hitler's horoscope showed he was not a war maker. So much for the horoscope! Today's astrologers do no better. On the rare occasions when their guesses are right, unthinking people tout them, never noticing the many, many times when they are wrong.


Bible Prophecy, you will recall, was the giving forth of the truth of God under the immediate leading of the Holy Spirit. It isn't identical to preaching, because the preacher interprets the written Word as instructed by the Spirit; he does not speak the very Word of God. Prophets proclaimed God's Word to the people. They would say, Thus says the Lord, and you could be sure what they said was 100% truth. The early Church didn't have a Bible to read like we do. They relied on the teaching of the Apostles and prophets. A prophet's message revealed how people should live to please God. Although prophets foretold the future at times, this wasn't their primary task. They mostly challenged the people to serve God through holy living. If you read the O.T prophets you will see this. A. W. Tozer said: Scholars can interpret the past; it takes prophets to interpret the present. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to seek this gift because it was so practical. Prophets played such an important part in the early Church.


1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. When Paul prioritized spiritual gifts he listed prophets second and tongues last. It was upon the teaching of the Apostles and New Testament prophets that God established the Church. They were the Church's foundation. Ephesians 2:19-20: Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. The apostles and prophets were important to the early Church, but now God has completed His revelation to man in the Bible. We don't need new prophecy. We need to study and listen to what we already have.


I trust that no one here is seeking a new experience like tongues or prophecy? The Lord no longer speaks through Apostles and Prophets. He has given us His word. Today he speaks to His people through pastors, evangelists, teachers and encouragers. We should listen to them. We should study God's Word. If the Lord gives you opportunity then you can also teach it.

II.  Prophecy Edifies The Church

1 Corinthians 14:2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

a. Tongues Are a Mystery

Why does Paul say that those who speak in tongues speak to God and not men? Why does he say that they speak in mysteries? Because the Corinthians were using tongues in their Church services without an interpreter. The message of tongues was never directed toward believers but unbelievers. This can be seen from the day of Pentecost. The audience that understood the tongues were unsaved people from all over Asia. Tongues, enabled the Church to reach these unbelievers who spoke another language. The message proclaimed through tongues was the wonderful works of God. Yet it wasn't the message of tongues that saved them but the Gospel that Peter preached after this. The Gospel message always accompanied tongues in the early Church. This can be established from Acts 2; 10 & 17. 

The primary purpose of tongues was to reach unbelievers and challenge them to repent. Verses 23 and 24 reveal how this gift was not primarily for Christians worshipping in Church. The gift was given to reach unbelievers while the Church was in its infancy. There was an element of warning associated with the gift of tongues. The fact that a foreigner could speak to them of God's wonderful works is challenging in itself. Paul points out how God used tongues to convict Israel of sin in verses 21 and 22.

It is unfortunate that people have the idea that tongues were used to preach the Gospel to the lost. At Pentecost, the believers extolled the wonderful works of God, but Peter preached the Gospel in the Aramaic language his listeners could all understand. The gift of tongues has never saved anyone. Rather it is faith in Jesus Christ, heard and received through the Gospel that accomplishes this miracle. The gift of tongues simply grabbed the attention of unbelievers so that they might then listen to the Gospel. Paul was afraid that the excessive tongues-speaking in the church would convince the lost that the Christians were crazy! 1 Corinthians 14:23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

Unfortunately the Corinthians were speaking in tongues during their services and causing confusion. Because no one interpreted the message the Church didn't understand it. It was all a mystery to them. Only God understood what was being said. What was the result when local people visited the Church? They said that they were mad! What would happen if I stood up here and preached to you in Greek, French or Russian? You wouldn't understand the message. Why does the Bible society go to great lengths to translate the Bible into other languages?  Because unless they do the tribe receiving their Bibles won't benefit from them.


Spanish Bibles


A family was visiting a church and the minister announced they had both Spanish and English Bibles for use during the service. A little boy tugged at his mother's sleeve and whispered, Mommy, I want one of those Spanish Bibles. Don't be silly, you can't read Spanish, she quickly replied. Holding out his own Bible to her, this little 3 year old explained, Mom, I can't read my English one either.


b. Prophesy Is Instructive


1 Cor 14:3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.


Because the prophets spoke in the language of the people, they were helped. The prophets message was useful and instructive. You could learn from it. The Holy Spirit moved them to share a message that was needed at the time. Paul mentions three ways that the Church received help from their messages. 


1. Edification -  The word edification oijkodomhn means to advance, build up. This concept is not alien to the body image of the church; even today, we speak about bodybuilding exercises. There is an overlapping of images here, for the body of Christ is also the temple of the living God. Paul’s choice of the word edify was a wise one. Prophets helped to build up the Church. They gave instruction concerning the Christian life that enabled believers to grow. This was in fact the task that God had given them to do.

2. Exhortation -  The word exhortation paraklhsi" means to persuade, instruct, encourage. As well as building up the people through instruction, prophets also encouraged believers to service using their knowledge in a practical way. This word is related to the word we get Holy Sprit from. The Holy Spirit comes alongside and encourages in our Christian walk. Prophets do this by reminding believers of God's faithfulness, help, and promises.

3. Comfort - The word comfort paramuqia means to console or encourage. It speaks of consoling someone who is bereaved or suffering. God's Word is a comfort to those who are suffering because it offers hope for the future and help for the present.


c. Prophesy Edifies The Church


1 Corinthians 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

Prophets instruct the Church and build it up. Their messages gives guidance, comfort and conviction. Their teaching is useful because it is understood. Prophets helped to build up the Church. However those speaking in tongues couldn't accomplish this. The believer who speaks in a tongue speaks to God in praise and worship; but the believer who prophesies shares the Word with the church and helps those who listen. Yes they may be exercising their gift and feel blessed from doing this, but they aren't helping anyone else. Such self edification goes against the purpose of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: God gives gifts to benefit the whole body.

Not Just Entertainment -- Charles Hidden Spurgeon

When Handel's Messiah oratorio had won the admiration of many of the great, Lord Kinnoul took occasion to pay him some compliments on the noble entertainment that he had lately given the town. My lord, said Handel, I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wanted to make them better. It is to be feared that many speech-makers at public meetings could not say as much, and yet how dare any of us waste the time of our fellow immortals in mere amusing talk! If we cannot speak for their edification, how much better to hold our tongues!


Many people today are seeking some new experience. They desire to speak in tongues or hear some new prophetic message. Yet they neglect what the early Church longed for, a completed Bible. They have turned away from the clear message of God's Word to new revelation through prophecy, tongues and visions. God no longer uses prophecy and tongues in His Church. These gifts were removed after the foundational stage of the Church.

After God completed the Cannon of Scripture these gifts ceased. God said they would in ch 13. These new revelations proclaimed today by Pentecostals are not empowered by the Holy Spirit. They are no where near 100% accurate. Therefore they must be considered as false prophets. Such people have departed from God's revealed Word to their own poverty! Only God's Word edifies, exhorts and comforts! Do you cherish God's Word? Do you study it daily? Are you growing by applying it in your life? Do you desire to hear it preached? Do you find it comforting and challenging? Do you obey it? Or do you seek something new?

III. Prophecy Is Greater Than Tongues

1 Corinthians 14:5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

a. Prophecy Edifies Without Interpretation

Paul's first choice for the Corinthians was that they prophesy. He didn't deny that tongues had a part to play in Christian ministry but it was less important than prophecy. Why? Because prophecy edified the Church without interpretation. God's message to the Church came through apostles, prophets and teachers. God used the gift of tongues to convict unbelievers of sin. Since edification was the purpose of spiritual gifts shouldn't they focus on the gifts that accomplish this? What is Paul's conclusion then? That prophecy is greater than tongues! Prophecy is far more important to the Church because it builds it upon God's Word. 


Clear Vision  -- John Ruskin


The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what he saw in a plain way. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, all in one.

b. Tongues Edify With Interpretation

When tongues are interpreted they do edify the Church. Paul explains this more a little further into the chapter. Since interpreted tongues could be understood they had value for believers. What was the content of such messages? Acts 2:11 We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. Acts 2 & 10 both state that they declared the wonderful works of God. Such teaching was beneficial to the Church. Because there were times when a foreign unbeliever came into the assembly. Some one speaking in tongues could challenge them with the wonderful works of God. Then if the speaker or someone else interpreted the tongue the rest of the Church could also be edified.

1 Cor 14:6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?

To conclude with tonight Paul states that he wouldn't profit them by speaking in tongues. But he could profit them by revealing something from God, or by sharing a word of knowledge, or prophesying or teaching. Why were these four gifts profitable when uninterpreted tongues weren't? Because they were understood. Their message was communicated in the language of the people. Paul himself could speak in tongues, yet he chose to use it the proper setting; when reaching foreign unbelievers. 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Misunderstanding Prophecy

We do not question that holy men moved by the Holy Spirit have foretold things that were to come to pass, which could not have been foreseen by the natural wisdom of men. But too much of importance has been attached to the purely predictive element of prophecy.  Looking for fulfillment of prophecy in particular historical events, we do not see revelations of the character of our holy God, and his relationship to a race of lost men. We do not read the lesson that we are the creatures of his all-wise and gracious purpose, the objects of his redeeming love and providential care. God reveals this clearly in His Word.


Unless God's Word is shared clearly how can the Church be edified? Spiritual gifts are useful when exercised in a loving and intelligent way. Uninterpreted tongues were useless to the Church in Corinth because they couldn't be understood. How much more useless is the counterfeit version taking place today in Charismatic Churches after tongues have ceased? Let us pursue love and desire spiritual gifts and be careful that we edify one another!

Next time we look at 1 Corinthians we will see how Paul shows that understanding is important for edification to take place.


Tonight we have seen that spiritual gifts must edify the Church if they are to be of value.

I.   Prophecy Is To Be Desired - Prophecy exercised in love is good.

II.  Prophecy Edifies The Church - Prophecy helps the Church to grow to maturity.

III. Prophecy Is Greater Than Tongues - Prophecy didn't need interpretation.


2 Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

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