1 Corinthians 14: Spiritual Gifts Build the Body

Diane_painting_flowers_06022014By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.  Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (vv 18-19)

How do spiritual gifts affect Christian worship?

The weekend last year when I commenced at seminary, I visited a new church.  The guest preacher was a close friend and I sought his blessing over my ministry.  The service was video-taped and streamed online. The music was lively; the prayer was deep; the congregation was engaged. People danced, waved flags, sounded ram’s horns, and testified to God’s power in their daily lives. This congregation actively celebrated the gifts of the spirit [1].

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he sought to channel the expression of spiritual gifts to build up the church (v 4).  He made his point by comparing two gifts:  speaking in tongues and prophecy.  Paul describes the gift of tongues as the language of angels (13 v 1), a spiritual prayer language (v 13), and a manner suitable for speaking with God (v 28) [2].  He describes prophesy having at least 3 purposes:  building people up, encouraging people, and providing consolation (v 3).  Because Paul engages in both speaking in tongues (v 18) and prophesy (13 v 9) [3], he is using these gifts to make a point, not to discourage their practice.

Paul makes several points in preferring prophecy over speaking in tongues during worship, including:

  • The one who speaks in tongues speaks to God, but the one who prophesies speaks to people (vv  2-3);
  • The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church (v 4);
  • Prophesy is to be preferred to speaking in tongues (unless someone interprets the tongues) because prophesy builds up the church (v 5).
  • Prophesy involves spirit and mind (inferred), but speaking in tongues involve only the spirit (v 14);
  • Prophesy reaches unbelievers, while speaking in tongues does not and may distract them (vv 23-24); and
  • …tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. (v 22)

Paul himself speaks in tongues, but only in private (vv 18-19).

Paul’s teaching on worship focuses on building up the body of Christ, both by encouraging believers and welcoming unbelievers.  He suggests 2-3 people speak in tongues, if they have interpreters, and, likewise, 2-3 people prophesy (vv 27-29).  For Paul, worshiping decently and in order (v 40) accordingly implies moderation in the public display of spirituality, not its absence.

 

[1] All Nations Church, Charlotte, NC (www.ChavdaMinistries.org).

[2] Elsewhere, the Gospel of Mark reports: And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18 ESV)

[3] Paul’s description of his conversion and call suggests that he viewed himself called to be a prophet in the Old Testament tradition like Ezekiel. For example, the Greek in Acts 26:16 ἀνάστηθι καὶ στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (arise and stand on your feet; Acts 26:16 BNT) compares closely with Ezekiel’s words: στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (stand on your feet; Ezek 2:1 BGT).

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