We continue our study of Paul’s letters this week with 1 Corinthians 14. In the last chapter, Paul talked about possessing God’s “agape” love, which we have by receiving and remaining in His love. Paul begins chapter 14 instructing the Corinthians to pursue God’s “agape” love, but also to be eager to possess spiritual gifts in order to share His love with others.
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
v. 1-5 (NASB)
Many churches, including mine, do not encourage the use of sign gifts today, which include prophesy. I believe it’s because there’s been a lot of deception and wrong teachings regarding the use of spiritual gifts. Just because some have misused their spiritual gifts and caused deception, doesn’t mean we should omit the gifts all together. We shouldn’t limit what God wants to do through us out of fear of misunderstanding or misusing His gifts. Paul says to especially desire that we may prophesy because it edifies, exhorts, and consoles the church. God will often use His children to deliver a timely message to someone as an answer to their prayers, to encourage and build them up.
Many times God has used His people to deliver His message to me to edify, exhort or console me when I needed it. I’ll share a few examples.
Once was several years ago when I was going through some things and was in need of direction and wisdom from God. My birthday was approaching, so I asked God to send me answers to these specific issues on my birthday as a gift from Him. I requested it to be through someone I did not know, so I wouldn’t doubt it came from Him. When my birthday came around, I forgot I had prayed for Him to speak to me. I was skimming through my emails that day, answering some friend requests on one of my social media accounts. After sending messages to each, thanking them for their friend request, I received a lengthy reply from one man. Thinking it was spam or someone just trying to get me to support their cause, I hesitantly started reading it. The message he wrote, which he humbly said he felt God wanted him to share with me, spoke to everything I was going through at the time. These were not just general things I had requested answers to. These were specific requests that no one could have known about, especially someone who didn’t know me personally. God used His servant to deliver a timely message to me to edify me when I needed it.
Another time God delivered a message to me was through my husband. My husband was busy at work one day getting lined up on a job. His boss was giving him instructions when he felt the Lord suddenly speak to him to call me and tell me that he supported me. My husband didn’t know at that very moment I was on my knees at home crying and praying for support from my husband over something I knew God wanted me to do. God used my husband to bring me consolation right when I needed it.
God has also used His children to exhort me when I needed it. I was on my way to church one day when I felt led to go to my friend’s church instead. She had invited me several times in the past, but I never had a chance to go. I thought I’d show up and surprise her. Little did I know that I would be the one receiving the surprise. As the pastor was finishing up his message, and getting ready to close with a prayer, he stopped and spoke an exhortation that he said he didn’t plan on sharing but felt God strongly speaking through him to tell someone to forgive the exact person that I was struggling with forgiving (he stated their title of relation). I know without a doubt, God led me to that place that morning to receive the exhortation to forgive that person.
Paul continues explaining that we should be zealous of spiritual gifts for the edification of the church. We don’t need to be afraid of misusing our spiritual gifts if our heart is with God and we are motivated by Him to use those gifts to help others.
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
v. 6-19 (NASB)
I went to a Christian conference once with three of my relatives. One relative had never been to a conference or had any interest in going at the time, but reluctantly went because one of the other relatives insisted she went. Throughout the entire conference, a woman behind us spoke out loud in tongues. It was so distracting that we couldn’t listen to the preacher speaking. I was embarrassed as my relative looked like she was ready to run out of the auditorium. The woman behind us was not using her gift for the edification of others. She was hurting others by hindering them from receiving the word the preacher was called to share.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:11-3 (NASB)
Paul closes addressing issues of disorder in the Corinthian church, and instructs that all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner, because God is not the author of confusion. We are to be mature in our thinking, using the wisdom God’s given us in His Word, and the gifts He’s given us through His Holy Spirit, to build up the church, not confuse and disrupt the church.
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
v. 20-40 (NASB)
We praise You for filling us with Your love and equipping us with spiritual gifts for the edification, exhortation, and consolation of the church. Give us wisdom and knowledge how to use the gifts You’ve given us. Help us not to limit and hinder Your gifts out of fear of misunderstanding or misusing them. Keep our hearts full of You and our minds fixed on Your Word so we can clearly hear from You to reach out and meet the needs of others.
In Jesus’ faithful name, we pray. Amen!
*This series will continue next week as we study 1 Corinthians 15.