1 Corinthians 14
Paul continues to speak to the Corinthians concerning being unified in one mind and not trying to “lord It over” the others. He speaks of spiritual gifts in this chapter and tells them they should seek to love. Without love, other actions are shallow. There becomes a mind-set of self-satisfying with our actions so we are seen instead of acting for the profit of the person receiving. The first brings glory to the actor, while, the latter brings glory to God.
Paul carries on with this thought of love moving from the gifts of the Spirit to the fruits of the Spirit. It appears obvious that self-serving people crave the “flashy” fruit, for example speaking in tongues or preaching. Paul speaks to the Corinthians in this book concerning being unified. A member being self-serving and self-focused brings disharmony into any group. The person takes a role that draws attention to him or herself instead of to the group. In the context of a church, this occurs when a person takes it upon him or herself to be at the center of attention. In consideration of the gifts of the Spirit, self-focused people consider the gift of tongues and speaking in groups as desirable because of this outcome. Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 14, speaks to just these people. He states in verse 1, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (New American Standard Bible).
Paul ties the spiritual gifts to the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. He states firstly that love should be the guide in using spiritual gifts. Paul’s wish is that they prophesy. Why is this his wish for them? Consider what he says in verse 3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (NASB). This tells why Paul says for them to crave for and develop this spiritual gift. As readers in the 21st century, though, we need to understand what Paul meant by edification, exhortation, and consolation.
For the times in which Paul lived and in the century or two after, edification meant to build up or help another Christian grow in wisdom, piety, happiness, and holiness. Paul used this term in Romans 14:19 as well. He wrote, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (NASB). Things which brought righteousness, peace, and joy are ways to serve Christ acceptable by God and men (Romans 14:18, NASB). If our goal is to help others grow in their faith and wisdom, not only are we edifying them, but we are building up the body of Christ to which that believer belongs. Prophecy assists in growing the body of Christ. The goal of prophecy then is not self-serving, but submission and subservience to the Church and, as a result, to Christ. It is building upon the foundation laid by Christ with things that will make the members stronger in their faith, knowledge of God, wisdom, and happiness.
Paul considers the spiritual gift of prophecy as the highest because its attribute of exhortation. To us in the 21st century, this means telling others in a persuasive way of the validity of our cause/principles/vision. During the early Christian era, exhortation meant calling persons near/summoning them with entreaties and encouragement to follow the espoused path of the speaker. Paul uses this nineteen of the twenty-eight times the word occurs in the New Testament. Paul uses this word to describe Barnabas in Acts 4:36. Barnabas’ name means “Son of Encouragement.” For Paul, the exhortation he is speaking to the Corinthians is that which encourages others to continue in their walk with Christ. This encouraging gives believers courage to stand strong in the face of persecution. It keeps them strong everyday to walk in God’s way. This form of prophesying is to encourage a follower of Christ to stand strong everyday in usual business as well as when he or she faces trials for being His followers.
The final way in which Paul considers prophesying most important is because it brings consolation. Consolation in this context means to persuade continuance, arouse strong allegiance, and calm and comfort when encountering trials. Prophesying for this purpose is profitable for its soothing and driving to continue on the journey to which Christ calls each follower. In the New Testament, only 1 Corinthians speaks to this use of prophesying. Paul considers prophesying highly important since it helps others grow in their faith, encourages them to continue following during hard times, and calms and comforts as they are being battered by the spiritual conditions of the world.
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 14 by comparing the gifts of prophesy and tongues. Prophesying is for the building up of the church, the body of believers, and for convicting unbelievers of their sin. Tongues are desirable only when an interpreter is present, so mostly for the spiritual life of the believer in commune with God. Tongues do not build up the body of Christ unless there is an interpreter. Paul says in verse 2, “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” (NASB). Paul continues in verse 4, “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church” (NASB). The church is a place for sinners, not just the current body of Christ. If a person enters the church and hears words spoken in another tongue, the outsider is not edified and considers the people in the church mad. If the person enters the church and prophecies are occurring, the believer and unbeliever grow, one to greater knowledge, wisdom, and piety, and the other in awareness of his sin and the love of Christ. Consider what Paul says,
Therefore, if the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter; will they not say that you are mad? However, 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. (1 Corinthians 14:23-25, NASB)
Paul does not say tongues are a gift to which you should not aspire or should not cultivate. Rather, he says tongues are only useful for the person speaking with God. For it to be beneficial to others, an interpreter needs to translate so that “Amens” can respond. (“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?” vs.16) Paul’s statement most specific in regards to these two gifts is found in verse 12, “Since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.” Paul acknowledges their wish to be growing Christians useful to the Lord for His service. He says that the most important thing to consider is that the building up of the church and its members should be paramount. Whether we are visible working for the Lord and receive praise or are not visible and receive only the praise of our Father, what is of considerable worth is the building up of the body of Christ.
Ultimately, love is the consideration, though. Paul’s first two words in this chapter speak to this, “Pursue love.” We want to have spiritual gifts with which to minister with God. The Spirit, by whom we are seen as Christians, gives us fruit. Paul, in considering both of these, states that love is the most important. Without love, we are a “noisy gong and a clanging symbol.” He says in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12-13,
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away… now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (NASB)
We each must come to the point where we are not striving for our own selves, but are choosing the greater. The challenge comes, are we living in love, seeking to serve others through the love of God? It gives us pause. Do we want to be the show or do we want to show Jesus’ love to others?