Christians, Chaos, Culture, and the Greatest Gift of All
The Gift Prophesy
Edifying All – Encouraging All – Engaging All
(1 Corinthians 14:1-12)
Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives—especially the ability to prophesy. For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church.
I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened.
Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle?
It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.
There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning. But if I don’t understand a language, I will be a foreigner to someone who speaks it, and the one who speaks it will be a foreigner to me. And the same is true for you. Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church.
So anyone who speaks in tongues should pray also for the ability to interpret what has been said. For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying. Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand. I will sing in the spirit, and I will also sing in words I understand. For if you praise God only in the spirit, how can those who don’t understand you praise God along with you? How can they join you in giving thanks when they don’t understand what you are saying? You will be giving thanks very well, but it won’t strengthen the people who hear you.
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you. But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.
Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. It is written in the Scriptures:
“I will speak to my own people
through strange languages
and through the lips of foreigners.
But even then, they will not listen to me,”
says the Lord.
So you see that speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for the benefit of believers, not unbelievers. Even so, if unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy. But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.”
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people. Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings. Or do you think God’s word originated with you Corinthians? Are you the only ones to whom it was given? If you claim to be a prophet or think you are spiritual, you should recognize that what I am saying is a command from the Lord himself. But if you do not recognize this, you yourself will not be recognized.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.
Context and Content Overview
Within the content of what we call chapter fourteen of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church many Christians and well-meaning Christian leaders have fallen into trap. The trap is in losing perspective of the bigger picture of Paul’s message and instruction to a specific group of people with specific issues and concerns. When we interpret this part of Paul’s letter as if it were not connected to the rest – then there is a serious loss of context for the readers such as ourselves and intent from writer who was being inspired by the Spirit of God to teach and correct those who he was writing to. My message to us regarding chapter fourteen is this… “Don’t get lost here – it is not a destination point, it is merely a point of passage.” The passage is not a theological manifesto or argument for Pentecostalism or for Evangelicalism. It is not purposed or intended for denominationalism of any kind. It is purposed for maturing and correcting the body of Christ. The passage from Paul was (and remains to this day) intended for uniting, building, encouraging, and understanding the gifts of God’s Spirit as they are used by flawed people with right motives and good hearts. Paul intends for the church at Corinth to lose their selfish, divisive, and prideful behavior – and to become wiser and more effective in their worship and in their relationships with one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God and the community of faith.
The themes remain the same. Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit. Tongues, whether they are manifested in diverse ethnic languages, or glossolalic prayer languages, do not qualify as a major gift preferred by God to build and edify the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul instructs us all that right after the gift of love the gift of prophecy is most preferred and expected by God.
“Why? Simple. God is love. And in His love, God has chosen to include everyone, and not to exclude anyone. The gift of prophecy includes and can be understood by everyone. That is the grid of truth with which we must filter 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen. If we do not, we more than likely will fall into the trap of spiritual pride and elitism and maybe never come out.”
The original Greek usage by Paul of the word prophecy in chapter fourteen is “prophetise.” The definition for this word is; to proclaim the gospel. In the first century church the gift of prophecy used by those who could and would accurately interpret and proclaim the gospel of Jesus, as it had been told and written by the apostles. The gift of prophecy in the context of the Corinthian church is the correct instruction for a group of people who had lost sight of the love of Christ for all, and proclaiming the message and mission of Christ in a way that all could hear and understand.
Because of that lapse in judgment, the door of sin was opened – followed by confusing behavior, hurtful offenses, chaotic worship, and unrighteous practice of faith.
The truth is that it is much easier to interpret chapter fourteen as a theology for or against tongues, either ethnic or glossolalic language. But that is not the best or most excellent way. The truth really is that Christ has always come against anyone or anyone that does not love enough to include enough and in this context it means communion, teaching, fellowship, and all forms of Godly worship.
Next week we will focus on how Paul’s instruction was intended to challenge, correct, and effect change in the hearts and lives of the Corinthian Christians.
Communicating In Christian Worship
Who is speaking – Who is being spoken to
What is being spoken – Why is it being spoken
How it should be spoken – How it should not be spoken
What is being heard – How is it being heard
- Within the Word of God there is the proclamation of the truth
- Within biblical context there is accurate perspective for the truth
- Within the silence there is the hearing of the truth
- Within the Spirit of God there is revelation of the truth
- Within the gift of love there is relevance to the truth