We all know that words have the power to build up or tear down. As Paul talks about spiritual gifts in chapter 14, we see a great emphasis on edification (v. 3-5, 12, 17, 26). The gifts we are given are for building up the body of Christ.
The Superiority of Love
Paul begins chapter 14 saying, “Pursue love…” (v. 1). Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn. 13:35). Many people have differing opinions on this chapter. It’s important that we are sensitive and love one another even when we disagree. There is a group of people that says sign gifts have ceased. Another group believes that speaking in tongues is the evidence of having the Spirit. There are some dear saints of God in both camps, but I do not think either are correct. And, to have an attitude that says, “Stay away from those who believe otherwise,” or to have an attitude of pride, is wrong and unloving. The context of this chapter is public worship. Everyone in the church family is gifted and everyone is important.
The Significance of Prophecy
In this chapter Paul deals with only two gifts, prophecy and tongues. Just like the disciples argued over who was the greatest, the church was arguing over which gift was the greatest. There were those who thought the gift of tongues was more spiritual, but Paul says, “Which one best builds up the body?” (v. 1-5). Some say that prophecy is preaching. All preaching is prophecy but not all prophecy is preaching. Paul wants them ALL to prophesy. He is not wanting them all to be preachers. Everyone is not to be the preacher or teacher. What does he mean? He means applying scripture to a person’s life or situation. It is forthtelling more than foretelling. As we read on in verses 6-19, we see that speaking in tongues seems to be a form of prayer. If you don’t know what you are praying, and your mind is not engaged, then it will not help. Jesus said to worship the Father in Spirit and truth. Paul said do both – spirit and mind. “Amen” means I agree. It’s hard to say “amen” if you don’t understand what has been said. Does Paul want to discontinue tongues? No. The issue is not the practice but the place. The ideal church is not that all speak in tongues just like it’s not that all be single, all be married, all be old, or all be young.
The Sign of Tongues
In verses 20-25, Paul says that tongues are a sign for unbelievers (see also Is. 28). He also says that what’s done in the church should bring people to worship God. When church becomes so bizarre and weird that you are uneasy to invite your friends, we have missed the point. The goal is to get people to come back! If they don’t come back, they probably will not know God, find community, serve people, or leave a legacy. We want people to be put at ease. The purpose of church is to worship God, encourage and build up one another, pray, sing, and win the unbeliever.
The Structure of Worship
As the chapter continues, Paul gives some guidelines for the church, “that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (v. 31). God is a God of order. Think of all the systems in the body: immune, skeletal, respiratory, reproductive, nervous, etc. Think about all the solar systems in the universe, the planetary systems, and the ecosystems. Paul talks about interpretation, the number of people speaking at one time, and about women keeping silent. How are we to interpret this about women? Dr. David Jeremiah says, “The command for women to keep silent reflects Corinthian culture in which woman were not allowed to confront men in public.” We have to look at the context. Let the Bible interpret the Bible. “Silent” is also used in verses 28, 30, and 34. The issue is tongues in public worship. The issue was confusion (v. 33). It is not saying that women can never speak in church! In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul says a woman is not to have her head uncovered when she prays or prophecies. He is not contradicting himself.
To summarize, we must identify the top priorities. Pursue love. Do what will benefit the most people. Communicate so that people can understand. It is all about the gospel. We have to see things through the eyes of the outsider, the unbeliever. We are to lift others up and make sure everything is done the right way. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not weird. We can’t do what God has called us to do without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not make me better than you. He makes me better than me. He is Holy. We are sinful. He is Great. The only thing great about us is our sin. We need Him to experience grace, love, and mercy.