1 Corinthians 14
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)
Paul has laid it out for us plainly in chapter 13 that we should pursue love. This is something we can work at, we can strive for. You can love God with all your heart, soul and mind and when you pursue that kind of love, when you pursue loving God, He can give you that kind of love for people. But we can still desire spiritual gifts. Paul is specifically talking about speaking in tongues and prophesying in this chapter. I had never paid much attention to this chapter before so I found it very interesting and I don’t know a whole lot about speaking in tongues nor the gift of prophecy in today’s events. I know there are congregations who still say that they speak in tongues but I have never been a part of one. Therefore, I am not making a claim for or against it in the present day. I am simply unpacking this chapter to see what we can learn about Paul’s intent then and what we can learn about it today.
In verses 2 – 5 Paul tells them that the one who is speaking in tongues is speaking to God, not to men. That men cannot understand the one who is speaking in tongues. That is why he says “especially that you may prophesy”. He goes on to explain that prophesying speaks to people and it is for their “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation”.
“The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:4)
He is not saying that it is bad to speak in tongues but just that prophesying is better because it builds the community not just the person. And in fact later in the chapter and he says so even in verse 5 he wants them to speak in tongues it is just that he wants them even more to prophesy. Why? Because he wants them to be sure that they are building up the church.
In verses 6 – 12, he explains a little further why he feels this way. He is giving them the negative side of speaking in tongues. He is telling them he can see that one speaking in tongues in a congregation would be confusing to people who could not understand what was being said. He explains this using the example of musical instruments. Now something I have always wished I could do is play a musical instrument. I was in the band for a couple of years in Junior High. I took piano lessons as a child. I have a dulcimer and I have at times picked it up to try to learn but it is not something that comes naturally for me. So assuredly listening to me play a musical instrument would not be pleasant at all. You would not get anything out of it. In the same way if someone is speaking in tongues in a group setting and there is no one to interpret it, it would not be pleasant to hear. The hearer would be like listening to a foreign language. This is why Paul desires for the Corinthians to desire prophecy rather than speaking in tongues.
“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
As I read and studied this chapter, what my interpretation was is that speaking in tongues is more of a private matter. Paul is not saying it can never happen in a congregation, but what he is saying is that when it does that there should always be an interpreter present. But that when they, when we, come together as congregations that the purpose is for the community as a whole, not just for one person. Speaking in tongues is a communication between one man and God. I got from this that Paul does speak in tongues in his time with God. His “quiet time” or his “prayer time’ if you will. It is something that happens between him and God. But the greater thing here is to prophesy because it is for the whole.
“Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:19)
The next section of this chapter addresses orderly worship. The Corinthians were meeting in house churches and we already know that they might tend to act like it was just a big party when they were together. Paul wants them to bring more order to their times together. ‘
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Paul is telling them there should be an order of things when they come together with one goal in mind and that is to build each other up. That they should come together to learn and to be encouraged. I think this is much the same as our churches today. We go to church to learn more about Jesus and to be encouraged so that we can go out we can make disciples and hopefully bring more people to the faith. Our goals in the fellowship should be to have order, so that we can all learn and be encouraged. And not to allow our worship services to be chaotic with no order in them.
Paul finalizes the chapter with an exhortation to them.
“So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:39-40)
Lord I pray that our churches will be meeting with the whole in mind. I pray that you will reveal to us the ways that are chaotic and not building the community so that we may bring order to them. I pray that we will know that the end goal of our fellowship is always the community and that our time with You that builds us personally is to enhance what we have in community.
Please pray for the small business owners and service people today.