Chrysostom “ This whole passage is very obscure; but the obscurity arises from our ignorences of the facts described, which, though familiar to those to whom the apostle wrote have ceased to occur. Before we dive into this chapter it is important to see what Paul has been doing to this point, and how 1 Corinthians 13 connects with 1 Corinthians 14. Ultimately Paul’s point here and throughout the letter is that they are missing the key ingredient of Christ love. If they had love they would pursue the gifts that were focused to the building up of the whole church. Love is other focused.
Strive to excel in the building up of the church so that all may know God is really among us.
- Build others as well as yourself.
- Build the mind and the Spirit.
- Building the believers and unbelievers
Build others as well as yourself
In light of Chapter 13 there is one mission for the use of gifts, and that is edification – love for the saints. And Paul compares two gifts to that standard: Prophecy and tongues. Measuring them by how they build up the church. Then it becomes clear that although both are God given gifts, prophecy does more for the church then tongues. That is why he picks up where he left off and says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy.”
He is saying, “You have upside down values – you seem to care more about showmanship than about servant love. More about showing off your spirituality than being spiritually minded. You abuse the gift and so dishonor the Giver. It is interesting that the lists that do contain tongue speaking it is usually found nearer the bottom, and in Paul’s later writings it is not found at all.
Paul is saying stop pursing the gifts that build your spiritual resume, and rather pursue the gifts that build up the church. He uses this word builds up many times in the span of these few verses (v. 3,4,5,12). His conclusion is found in verse 12, “strive to excel in the building up of the church.” In our individualistic age, where faith has been purely personalized and privatized – this is something that the church needs to hear. “Strive to excel in building up the church!” Are we simply here to grow our own faith, to personally grow stronger, or do we sincerely care about the building up the church, about the relationship that those around us have with God. That’s what this comes down to.
Because in a sense tongue speaking was that gift that showed off the privatized and personal faith. They were using it to show off, saying, “Look at me! I have the Spirit!” We might do that with knowledge, or with reformed doctrine. Other churches today do something similar when they place such a weight on the speaking in tongues.
But Paul already made clear at the very beginning of chapter 12 that whoever confesses Jesus as Lord has the Spirit – and the gifts are meant for the sake of the church. This why tongues are far less beneficial than prophecy. For as he says in verse two “for one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” In case they didn’t get the point, he says it more succinctly in verse 4 when he says, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.
I Can speak most eloquently in mandarin, and share mysteries of the gospel – but it wont do anything for you. It’s not building up, its not encouraging, and it does not console. Some of you may think I was drunk not unlike the people who accused the apostles at Pentecost of drinking at 9am in the morning. But Prophecy is different.
The word 'prophecy' simply means to speak forth. And in this context, I think it is the ability to speak forth God's Word, or the revelation of God for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of God's people. So that's what prophecy is, speaking forth God's Word - to build up, to encourage and to console God's people.
Church – you are not here for yourself. Talents (in the way the world understands them), is to further your own person, career, and future. But in the church the gifts that the Lord your God entrust to you are meant to build up those around you. Are you worried about your neighbor’s faith and trust as you are about your own? This is again the heart of the whole law – love for God and neighbor. The purpose of our life. The one who pursues the gifts that build up the church is doing well.
This does not mean that Paul thought tongue speaking was not important, simply that it was not as beneficial to the church as prophesying. That is why he says, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongue, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” Again, did you catch that. “So that the church may be built up.” I think we often underestimate Gods estimation of the church. And that is why we easily fall into the trap of thinking the church is only there to build our faith. We come to be served. The elders and deacons work is to build the Church, we think. But Paul makes clear here as well as elsewhere this work of building the church is the ministry of each and every believer. And we must seek those things out that serve to strengthen and build up the church in love so that we as a body reach maturity in Christ.
As Pastor, I want you all to fulfill your task as prophet priest and king. Not just to build your faith, but to share the gospel as prophets, to intercede on behalf of the church as priests, and to fight against in in y9ur life and church as kings! We don’t need to show off our knowledge, or our spirituality, we need to USE it.
Paul compares tongue speaking to someone playing an instrument without making music in verse 7-8. It is like when a three year “plays” the piano. No one knows what he is playing. It is absolutely unintelligible, except maybe to himself. The notes just float off into the air, without benefiting or making sense to anyone. That is what tongue speaking is if there is no further elaboration. As he says in verse 6, “Now brothers, “If I come to you speaking in tongues how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation, or knowledge, or prophecy or teaching?”
He goes on to say, “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speakers and the speakers a foreigner to me.” The point is we ought not be foreigners to one another – but brothers and sisters. He begins this paragraph with the word, “Brothers” after all. So we need to seek the gifts that build up. But also, that engages the Spirit and mind.
Builds the mind and the Spirit.
Not only is prophecy better because it build up the church, but it is also better because it engages the mind and spirit.. he says, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. Paul is about engaging the whole person.
The Greek term translated, “unfruitful,” has the idea of “useless”. This term is never used in a positive sense within the New Testament. Peter exhorts us to avoid being “useless” or “unfruitful” (2 Peter 1:8).
Paul teaches here that to pray in a way that is unintelligible is not something he wants them doing. They are to pray in a way that is understandable to them and others. Otherwise, they risk mimicking the drunken Greek oracles and the pagans who do not know God.
From scenes in heaven, to the Temple, to upper rooms, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to boats, and more, Scripture is full of prayers. Yet, not one of them records an occasion of a non-earthly language. They are all known human languages. Thus, Paul is not describing something he wants them doing, but correcting misuse and misunderstanding of the gift of tongues.
Paul is saying, in effect, “Let the Spirit and the mind work together.” If you are praying publicly for your sake and others pray plainly. As he says in verse. 15, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” Engage the whole person for the sake of the whole church. Too often we focus on emotion and the feeling without focusing on the mind and order. At other times we may focus on the mind without giving proper due to the Spirit. Both are important.
Notice he speaks about tongue speaking, but also includes singing, because singing can have the same affect. Where we are so caught up in the beauty of the song that we do not consider the truth of the song. Or we are so focused on the truth of the songs that we care nothing for the beauty.
But if no one knows what is being said it is as if they are a foreigner, or an outsider. And as verse 16 makes clear you can’t say “amen” On gibberish. On something you don’t understand. Interesting enough the church was regularly saying amen in response to the word of God.
Again, he is not saying tongue speaking is wrong or bad, but when it comes to the public worship of God it does very little to nothing to build up the congregation and neither does it engage the whole person as God has made us. As he says he speaks in tongues more then all of them, but “I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, then ten thousand words in a tongue.”
Here we see the value Paul places on healthy instruction. Five words of instruction are worth more to the church then ten thousand words with the tongue. Why? because when we are together it is about building each other up in the presence of God using the gifts god has given.
Prophesy is a sign to believers.
Brothers do not be children in your thinking. And in case they thought he was talking about evil, he says, be infants im evil – in other words just like infants have no experience when it comes to life, so they are to have no experience when it comes to evil. We are called to have a child-like faith, but this does NOT mean a childish faith.. So Paul says, “…but in your thinking be mature.” In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then, they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Why did God send these people? Well you can read Isaiah 28 where his verse is found, it is because they would not listen to the Lord. They were unbelieving, so God would harden them.
So what is tongues for? Tongues is not primarily for the building up of the church, because that is better served using the gift of prophecy. But tongues is a warning sign to unbelievers, especially if I may say the Jewish people, that they may listen up and be warned that if they do not turn and obey, there will come a judgement.
So it is with the Corinthians church as Paul says, “Thus tongues are not a sign for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but believers.” They were ironically showing off the tongues to their fellow brothers, as a mark of the Spirit, but Paul says it is actually a sing to unbelievers that can harden them like it did Israel and show their ignorance to things of God. Christianity is foreign to the world, and unless explained cannot be understood.
This is why when unbelievers come in and all they hear is tongues, they will say “you are out of your minds.” Them saying this means they do not have anything in common with Christianity, but it does not help them at all, besides showing that they are outsiders, and foreigners.
As he concludes, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. And that is the point isn’t it, that all our gifts which are given by God – might also ultimately be God centered and God oriented. And that is where Paul ends. That he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
For all you can say about the church in Corinth, this is amazing. How many people will they walked into the church as an outsider, or unbeliever would have this kind of reaction. How does this happen – it is when God voice is heard clearly, and the Spirit takes that voice and convicts the person so that he is called to account, the secret of his heart is disclosed, and he falls on his face in worship!
Dear church, seek the gifts that build up others not just yourself, seek the gifts that engage the mind not just the spirit, seek the gifts that are beneficial to those outside as well as to those inside. That is Paul’s point here. And he is using prophecy and tongues as an example. So, lets submit our gifts to the test of love. Is it loving? Is it upbuilding, and does it bring glory to God.
If these words were spoke to us today he might say, “You Christians who prove your spirituality by the amount of theological information you can cram into your heads, I tell you that such knowledge by itself proves nothing. And you who affirm the Spirit presence in your meetings because there is a certain tyle of worship (whether formal and stately or exuberant and spontaneous), if your worship patterns are not expressions of love, you are spiritually bankrupt. You who insist that speaking in tongues attest a second word of the spirit, a baptism of the spirit, I tell you that if love does not characterize your life, there is not even evidence of the first work of the Spirit.