1 Corinthians 14aposted by Little Mo | Permalink | 5 comments
Main point: it is better to desire prophecy than tongues because it edifies the church through understanding.
The church that works properly or “We’re just a love machine”
Pursue love: main thing to aim for is loving each other – rules over everything in this passage. When it comes to whole area of exercising our gifts, much better instruction to follow than “I have this gift, so where can it be used?” – rather pursue love
It is in that context that Paul says, desire spiritual gifts, in the context of the command to pursue love. So it is good to desire spiritual gifts (again spiritual things possibly), it is good to want the work of the Spirit in your life: but in the context of that command to pursue love.
Do everything in your power to love other Christians; and so desire spiritual gifts, especially Corinthians need to desire the gift of prophecy.
Build the church (vs 2-5)
Why is it better to prophesy in church than to speak in tongues?
Because if you are speaking in tongues, you are talking to God, what you are saying are mysteries in your own Spirit, but if you prophesy you are speaking to people for their upbuilding and encouragement.
Someone speaking in tongues may be doing good to themselves, but they aren’t doing good to anyone else.
Pretty simple and straightforward, despite all the controversy that surrounds this chapter what Paul is saying. If you speak in tongues it may be a very intense and personal spiritual experience which helps you, but it doesn’t help anyone else. If you prophesy, you help other people – they can understand what you are saying and therefore be encouraged, built up and consoled by it. If you speak in tongues, they can’t.
That’s pretty clearly just an application of what Paul has said so far, isn’t about what the church is supposed to be like and what it is for. If the church is supposed to be a body, with many different parts working together, valuing each other, and particularly helping those who seem weaker, when the church gets together, what you contribute to the gathering should be understandable to the rest of the congregation.
I think it is pretty clear that Paul isn’t against speaking in tongues, and he does seem to say that it has some value for the person who is actually doing the tongues speaking – in v 4 , the tongues speaker does build him or herself up , but the one who prophesies builds up the church because people understand it.
Verse 5, on the first read can seem confusing at first. Hasn’t Paul been at pains in Chapter 12 to say no one is greater per se than anyone else so why is now saying that the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues?
Well, it’s partly I think, playing the Corinthians at their own game – they clearly thought tongues was better, and so paul is saying –actually it is the opposite of what you think – it is the person prophesying who is greater than the person speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets so people can understand.
I think what he is saying here is: gifts which build up the church are better than those which don’t. When it comes to prophecy and tongues, prophecy is better than tongues, because as we have seen in chapter 12, the point of manifestations of the Sprit is for the common good, and prophecy achieves the common good much better than tongues.
So, the point of the first section: pursue love, which means building the church. So want gifts, like prophecy which do that.
Prophecy builds better than tongues (vs 6-19)
- no one can understand tongues
This may seem slightly repetitive – it is! Paul is really banging the drum hard here.
If even a musical instrument is played without trying to hit distinctive notes, how will anyone know what is being played?
Try singing King of Kings majesty, without actually attempting to hit any notes. See if anyone recognises the tune!
If you say things which don’t involve actually using words, no one can understand what you are saying. As Paul quite sharply puts it in his own inimitable style, you are speaking into the air.
(it seems to have been quite a central part of their worship services, so he’s not pulling any punches!)
- tongues are isolating for individuals
That’s what verse 10 and 11 says. Paul says – it may well be that someone speaking Japanese is making sense to themselves, but if I talk to someone at church and they only talk back to me in Japanese, then I am a foreigner to them and them to me.
Again – not what the church is - a body where the strong help the weak – but instead divided because people can’t understand each other.
- tongues aren’t using your mind
we’ll come to this in a second, but this is the biggest hint in the passage I think that speaking in tongues isn’t speaking in other languages – but some type of ecstatic experience where you aren’t really conscious what even you are praying for. Paul says, if you are going to do it, pray that you will know what it means as well, pray with your mind as well as your spirit
- tongues aren’t fair to those who don’t understand
If you are praying in a tongue, how can someone who doesn’t understand say Amen to it. How can it be a corporate gathering if there are people who can’t say Amen to the prayers?
Paul finishes by reiterating that he is not against speaking in tongues per se, but in church he would rather speak five intelligible words than 10000 words in a tongue, which is equivalent, surely to saying he will basically never speak in tongues in church.
The point of church gatherings is building up others
- whole attitude and approach to church – not going because won’t get much out of it. Go, sit and listen, leave (way we do church) not thinking over what point of gatherings are.
No - Pursue love – the time when the church is gathered together is when the amazing ontological, real reality that we are one body working together to show Jesus as Lord actually happens, as we pursue love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts which will help us build up others. Change in church nationwide if everyone who went thought like that!
Building up happens through intelligibility
- importance of the mind in spiritual growth. Divorcing of mind and experience in common practice – but I should want my mind to be fruitful, and other people only grow if they understand what is going on
- talking and praying in a way people will understand and be helped dave Bish “my faith is not strengthened by hearing an unintelligible spiritual language or someone speaking drivel in my own language” implications for us if we are to welcome internationals/those from unchurched backgrounds?
- Unhelpful “emergent” emphasis in increasing mystery – ie, it’s good if people don’t really understand but just experience.
Well, to be honest, I think for all of the controversy surrounding the passage that we have just looked at those two points are fairly easily seen and non-controversial. Build up the church by telling people things they understand – way the gathered church models the reality that we are brought into one body. In other words, love each other. Basically, all that passage is saying, love each other when you gather together as a church. Not rocket science.
However, have you spotted the elephant in the room. Rather 2 big elephants, 2 big issues, that are huge questions for us but we haven’t mentioned yet.
1) What are prophecy and tongues?
2) Do they still happen today?
Well, I’m going to have a go at those 2 questions briefly now, but 2 things to note. First is that, as I said at the beginning on Monday, we come to this passage with those questions, and they aren’t the questions Paul is answering here, so I’m not sure you can give a definitive answer from here, or in fact from anywhere. So I’ll try and present the evidence as I see it. Secondly, on the issue of whether these gifts still exist today and how they function, that is, what we call in the fellowship, a secondary issue. People who believe and apply the authority of the Bible who take a number of views, I will try to be fair, discussion. Thirdly, important we don’t use the controversy to ignore the question and answer that Paul is addressing here – can be a subtle but very theological way of ignoring the actual message of the Bible, which is what we do not want to do obviously.
What is prophecy?
- it is intelligible speech that people can understand
- it is for the benefit of the church, and builds them up
- it can have evangelistic content and lead to people being converted v 24
- it is under the control of the prophet v 29
- it is NOT like Old testament prophecy – it can be controlled and must be weighed
- it seems to be one of the main ways the church was taught
- men and women are allowed to do participate in giving it (11:5)
- it is subjected to the authority of the apostles
Not necessarily a spontaneous “thus says the Lord” type pronouncement.
What is tongues?
- V2 an ecstatic utterance that isn’t exclusively Christian
- May be viewed as some sort of heavenly language
- Does not involve using the mind
- Is not to be used in public gathering of the church without interpretation
- It is a good gift that does benefit the person using it (just not anyone else!)
As much as I think we can tell from this passage: ok do they or how do they continue today?
Main historical issue we are dealing with here, even though in our context today some sections of the church that talk about these gifts all the time, fact is, for about 19 centuries of the church’s history prophecy as a spontaneous revelation from God, and tongues as an outpouring of a non-human language didn’t really have any part in mainstream Christianity (fringes that soon became unorthodox on core things), and all of the views are attempts to explain or deal with this.
Cessationist: the view that revelatory and miraculous gifts ceased after the era of the apostles, usually argued because they were signs to attest to the truth of the Gospel before the canon of Scripture was closed.
Now, I grew up in a church that was basically cessationist, went through a time of thinking it was rubbish, now while I don’t think I agree with it, I can see that there are least persuasive arguments in its’ favour.
Because I heard: if we have extra revelation it threatens the authority of the Bible. Does it? But not argued from the Bible, self refuting if claim the point of believing it is to protect the authority of the Bible! The strongest argument against it by a writer with whom on most things I almost totally disagree: just read New Testament come to conclusion gifts don’t exist any more? Unlikely
3 arguments think are quite useful persuasive:
1) Not saying God doesn’t do miracles or even speak outside the Bible today, (criticism that closed to God’s working) but rather saying that there are not specific people with miraculous revelatory gifts to build the church. Clear – not a God limiting argument.
2) Seems Biblical Christians have to say that the gift of apostle, in the sense of someone commissioned by Christ with ability to give commands which have authority of Scripture, have to say that gift in that sense has ceased (although many churches do still say someone has apostolic giftings) but that gift has at least altered, so not a huge leap to say that the signs that accompanied it have too.
3) No matter what you think of the Corinthian church, it does seem clear that prophecy was the main way they were taught in their meetings. The later pastoral epistles (1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus) make it clear that the job of the church leader or teacher is to guard and teach the deposit, by then, given, and specifically not to seek new things from God.
Of course the weakness of cessationism is that the Bible nowhere clearly says it is the case: it is all the outworking of some other doctrine.
View that the full range of gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament are functioning and alive today.
No one, it seems can deny, that there did seem to be a long gap in the church’s history didn’t experience the gifts in the way that these type of Christians say we should today. So most would hold with the idea that God withheld the gifts for some time, but re-blessed the church with them, Pentecostals at the start of the century, charismatics through a renewal in a lot of the main denominations, and Third Wave, again in 80s and 90s especially through the Vineyard churches.
Great advantage of this view is that it does seem to accord with the way the church is described as working in the New Testament. Textually, it is very convincing, particularly if you take the book of Acts as showing the church as it should always function. Furthermore, real sense that God is alive, real, living and active in the church which the NT encourages, and which non-charismatic churches often seem to miss.
Couple of difficulties with it: that about apostles and about the pastoral epistles I have already mentioned, as well as historical difficulties (although not insurmountable)
- Main difficulty, sometimes experience becomes very important, and self authenticating – and some have even taught that speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of Christian maturity, and doctrine can become sidelined and less important than it should be: in short charismatic churches have sometimes been very Corinthian (commentators would agree) They may well respond, the solution in Corinth is never to tell them to stop using gifts but to use them properly, and that, ISTM is a pretty convincing argument against anyone saying that the gifts musn’t be real because they distract from the Gospel.
- Why did God remove gifts and bring them back?
- Other is, I just don’t see how you can be sure: 4 views, and definition of prophecy how do you know, certainly not like OT prophecy – how can you know what Paul is talking about – enough to strictly define it and say that you are using it?
The gifts actually never really stopped, and they just happened a lot less in the early church than we thought they did, and people still use some of them without realising.
I can’t quite decide, this is definitely where the church I go to is at, insofar as we are anywhere.
So, these people would say, a small number of people in the church probably always did obey 1 Corinthians 14 and use tongues in private, miracles did and do still happen now and again – even if you average out the number of miracles in Acts it wasn’t that many. Prophecy is much more of an insight and application of truth type thing, and churches have always done that, type of thing that happens in all churches now in homegroups and personal discussion, someone has amazing practical insight, that’s prophecy. God may well do something miraculous and revelatory through one particular person.
I think this has a lot to commend it – not least it’s definitely the peacemaker option as you can nod and agree with nearly everybody who says anything. It is a genuine attempt to be fair to the text, that says these gifts are good things, and should be used, but the job of the church is to protect the apostolic deposit.
You’ll tend to find that churches that take the continuationist view tend to be “open but cautious” when it comes to revelatory and miraculous gifts – as in, it might happen, but probably not.
It’s downfall I hold up my hands and admit, is cautious is not something that the NT writers and particularly here in 1 Corinthians , Paul, advise when it comes to God working through gifts. Got the gift, use it all the time for the benefit of the body. Nevertheless, I think that the great advantage of it, and the reason that it is the view I come closest to, is that it does allow you to follow the instructions in the pastorals about church leadership and the guarding what is entrusted to us, while not saying that God will or won’t do what he wishes through particular individuals, and that he hasn’t substantially altered the way he works since the NT canon was completed.
Well, the point of all of that is this: in UCCF we work together with people who take all of those views and hope we gain from each other’s strengths.
No matter which gifts you think operate to do, God is much more concerned about what you do with the gifts you have got, rather than which ones you have, or think operate today.
What God through Paul here commands (and everything else we have done is speculation, not Bible teaching) is that we strive in our churches to do whatever builds up and encourages others, and what builds up is what we understand.
The church works how God wants it to.