June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 14: Love and Clarity

You don’t have to move in different Christian circles for very long/ before you come up against groups who DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.

Ross and Gordon have told me some stories about the unusual interpretations about prophecy some of the Christians have at the school where they work.

Helen has described some of her experiences in a strict, legalistic Reformed Baptist church.

And Andrea has some interesting stories about growing up in the CATHOLIC church, and working in the kitchen of a monastery.

But it’s probably in the area of SPIRITUAL GIFTS that most of us will come across things we think are STRANGE, or that we don’t agree with.

I’ve just started to get together with a group of ministers of churches in the Blacktown area. And most of the pastors are from Pentecostal, or charismatic, churches. They’re HUGELY popular around here.

“Charismatic” just comes from the Gk word for GIFT. And they’re churches whose emphasis is on using their spiritual gifts.

And even though we’ve got lots in common, and we’re got the same goals, and we’re brothers in the Lord. When they start speaking in tongues, Words and sounds I don’t understand. I start to feel uncomfortable.

So what IS the right attitude to have to speaking in tongues? It’s an important question. Because Pentecostal churches aren’t just popular around here. The biggest churches in Australia are Pentecostal. Like Hillsong at Castle Hill. Or Christian City Church on the Northern Beaches. Megachurches. And they value speaking in tongues VERY highly.

What is it about these churches that makes them so popular? Is speaking in tongues part of the successful formula? And is it something WE should look at copying?

And it’s 1 Corinthians 14 which answers these questions better than any other place in the Bible. But before we do that, it’s important that we answer two questions first.

In this chapter, Paul compares the importance of the gifts of PROPHECY, and SPEAKING IN TONGUES. But exactly what does Paul mean by the gift of prophecy? And what does he mean by the gift of speaking in tongues?


Although I don’t believe that it’s EXACTLY the same, we get SOME idea from what the OLD TESTAMENT prophets did.

In general, the Old Testament prophets brought God’s word of CHALLENGE, ENCOURAGEMENT, or JUDGMENT to the people. They called the people back to God, and back to God’s law.

Sometimes what they said was PREDICTIVE. In other words, “In so many days, this will happen. Thus says the Lord.” But even then, most of these were more like WARNINGS. “if you don’t repent, this will happen.”

Prophecy in the New Testament seems to have been different. More low-key. Less authoritative. It wasn’t so much “Thus says the Lord!” Perhaps more like, “Here’s what God’s word says for you guys in this particular situation”

For example, in Acts 15, Judas and Silas deliver a letter from Jerusalem to the church in Antioch.

(Acts 15:30-32 NIV)  The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. {31} The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. {32} Judas and Silas, WHO THEMSELVES WERE PROPHETS/ SAID MUCH TO ENCOURAGE AND STRENGTHEN THE BROTHERS.

And it seems like Paul even felt fine about going AGAINST A prophecy. Acts 21.

(Acts 21:3-5 NIV)  We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. {4} Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. THROUGH THE SPIRIT THEY URGED PAUL NOT TO GO ON TO JERUSALEM. (I take that to be a prophecy){5} But when our time was up, WE LEFT AND CONTINUED ON OUR WAY. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.

So prophecy is directing God’s word to a particular situation to ENCOURAGE. And it doesn’t seem to have the same AUTHORITY as prophecy in the Old Testament.

And we see these same points/ when we look at 1 Corinthians 14. Verse 3 says that a prophet speaks to STRENGTHEN, ENCOURAGE and COMFORT.

And in v24 and 25, prophecy can CONVINCE AN UNBELIEVER that he’s a sinner, and that he’ll be judged. There has to be something of the GOSPEL, then, when there is prophecy.

And verse 29 seems to suggest that a prophecy wasn’t AUTOMATICALLY to be accepted. After a prophet spoke, the rest should carefully WEIGH-up what was said. “Was it wise? Was it consistent with Scripture? Did it build-up, comfort, or encourage?”

Presumably, that also means that sometimes the prophet WOULDN’T be “on the money”. Sometimes he or she wouldn’t be quite right. Or WOULDN’T be encouraging, or helpful.

Two other points. Verse 32 says that the prophet is ABLE TO CONTROL what he says. He’s not overcome by the Spirit. He’s not just possessed. A medium for God to speak through – like a loudspeaker. He can stop and start when he wants to.

And finally. It was accepted that WOMEN were also able to prophesy before the whole church. That’s back in Ch 11.

But Paul ALSO says in 1 Tim 2 that a woman must not teach, or have authority over, a man. So that seems to suggest that, whatever prophecy is, it wasn’t as authoritative as teaching.


Well, what about tongues?

Firstly, Ch 12 tells us that the ability to speak in tongues is a GIFT that God gives people. And v30 tells us that God gives only it to SOME Christians. Not all.

But what IS it? Verse 2 of 1 Corinthians 14 tells us that it’s a form of PRAYER. And it’s in a language NOT NORMALLY UNDERSTANDABLE to people.

Ch 13 v1 talks about speaking in the tongues of men and OF ANGELS. And so, it’s been suggested that these tongues are a HEAVENLY language.

Verse 4 says that it ENCOURAGES the speaker. But this isn’t an intelligent, thoughtful encouragement. Because v14 says that praying in tongues involves praying with your SPIRIT  – I think that means your EMOTIONS. Rather than with your MIND, or your thinking.

And that’s why, in v13, Paul instructs those who speak in tongues to PRAY for the gift of INTERPRETATION. In other words, that God will give them understanding. So that their encouragement can have some DEPTH to it. Some SUBSTANCE.

But speaking in tongues is not a BAD thing. Verse 18 tells us that Paul spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians. And in v 5 he says that he would LIKE everyone to speak in tongues. Even though it’s clear that it’s not a gift that everyone is given.

That’s a quick sketch of tongues and prophecy. And once we’ve got them clear, we’re well on the way to understanding what this chapter’s teaching.

Part 2: Love and clarity (1-25)

If you wanted to get the message through/ to someone you loved. You’d make sure it was as clear as possible. No chance of being misheard. Or misunderstood.

Your toddler has somehow made it inside the pool fence. And he’s spotted a ball in the middle of the pool. And he starts walking towards it when you see him. You scream at the top of your lungs, “Stop! Don’t move! No!”

If it was someone you loved, you’d go to ANY LENGTHS to make sure the message got through.

Like some of the things people do when they propose marriage. Sky-writing. Billboards. Announcements during packed football games. Communication that’s designed to impress. To make a point. Designed NOT TO BE MISSED.

Like Mike Middleton and Tracy Rivers. They’ve got an interesting story about Mike’s proposal. It took two days to happen. And about 7 years for Mike to plan. Very romantic.

When you love someone, you’ll go to any lengths to make sure the message gets through.

Paul’s main point in verses 1-25 is that if you LOVE your brothers and sisters, you’ll be keen to PROPHESY, rather than speak in tongues. Prophesy can encourage and strengthen them because it’s CLEAR COMMUNICATION.

Look at v1.

(1 Cor 14:1 NIV)  Follow the way of love (or PURSUE love) and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, ESPECIALLY the gift of prophecy.

Why prophecy? Well, Paul’s argument follows like this;

Verse 2. because tongues makes no sense to ANYONE (except God)

Verse 3. But PROPHECY strengthens, encourages and comforts.

And that’s why Paul says, down in v5, that the prophet is GREATER, or more use, or more helpful, than the tongue-speaker.

The LOVING thing is to communicate CLEARLY. So that you can encourage, comfort and build-up.

And then he gives three examples. About how USELESS it is to say something that noone understands.

First, v7. An out-of-tune piano. It’s useless to sing along to. Noone knows what note to sing. And none of the OTHER instruments can play in tune either.

Second. V8. A bugle with a dirty sock stuffed down the end. How are all the soldiers supposed to know when to charge? Or when to retreat? Or when to salute? If they can’t hear a crisp, clear, loud note.

Third, v10 and 11. If someone’s speaking Russian to me. It doesn’t matter HOW SMART they are. Or how slowly they speak. If I can’t understand Russian, I might as well be in another room.

And Paul’s point is clear. If you speak in tongues. And noone can understand them. Why bother?

Verse 12. It’s GREAT to be eager for gifts. But at least work at the ones that BUILD-UP THE CHURCH. That communicate clearly. Seek to abound in them. Strive to overflow with them.

How eager are WE about communicating clearly? How hard do we practice our instruments? How much time do we spend preparing our public prayers? Or preparing our Kid’s Church lesson? Or Bible study?

Are there any habits that have snuck into church/ that makes things LESS clear. Do we EXPLAIN what’s going on?

And even if you’re not up-front in any way? How constructive are you towards those who do? Do you give helpful feedback? Do you think about what SPECIFICALLY made a song, or a prayer, or a sermon clear. OR not clear.

I don’t know about others, but for me. I LOVE specific, constructive comments about how I’m communicating. If everyone’s nodding-off when I’m talking, I’m wasting my time.

Tell me what you thought! “I followed the intro. But you lost me when you moved onto the first point” Or “I didn’t follow how you got that application out of v15.”

Bad communication is MY fault. Not yours.

Let’s HELP EACH OTHER to communicate clearly. That’s what LOVE DOES.

And if it’s important for BELIEVERS. How much MORE important is it when there are UNBELIEVERS around?!

That’s the next point Paul moves on to. Look down at v 23;

(1 Cor 14:23 NIV)  So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

Most non- Christians find the bits we do IN ENGLISH are weird enough. “Singing. Praying. Standing up, sitting down. Closing your eyes, Opening them again. Flipping through a big book. Where everyone else knows where to look except for them.”

So imagine if they walked into church. And people were babbling in a language they couldn’t understand. But worse than that. Imagine EVERYONE was doing it. NOONE was making ANY SENSE. Like a fishmarket in Moscow. They WOULD think everyone was crazy.

Let me suggest that that’s not an experience that’s likely to make someone want to become part of a church.

Although that’s not what some churches today think. They seem to think that tongues will convince non-Christians to join the church. And my guess is/ that’s what the Corinthian church thought, too.

“If the non-Christians could just see what a good SHOW we could put on, they’d be really impressed. It’s really spectacular when everyone starts speaking in tongues (Noone can understand a word that’s going on, mind you). But it LOOKS and SOUNDS impressive!”

And Paul says, in v 20. “Stop thinking like babies. Grow up! You’ve got it all wrong! Tongues aren’t going to convince ANYONE!”

And to support his argument, he quotes Isaiah 28 in the Old Testament. Verse 21.

(1 Cor 14:21 NIV)  In the Law it is written: “Through men of STRANGE TONGUES and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.

Back in Isaiah’s time, God had warned Israel to turn away from following idols. But they ignored him. And so God said, “If you won’t listen TO ME, then perhaps you’ll take notice of some foreigners. I’ll send them to invade Israel. And when you hear them, walking along your streets, speaking in their strange language – you’ll know it’s actually ME speaking JUDGMENT to you. But even THAT won’t work”

And then, after Paul finishes quoting this verse, he says in v22.

(1 Cor 14:22 NIV)  Tongues, then, are a SIGN, not for believers but for UNBELIEVERS; (prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.)

In other words strange tongues don’t convince unbelievers to repent. They’re just a SIGN which SHOWS someone’s unbelief. Or CONFIRMS unbelief. Or LEADS TOWARDS unbelief.

Prophecy, however, is for BELIEVERS. It LEADS to belief. PRODUCES belief. Why? Because it’s CLEAR COMMUNICATION!

Look over at v24.

(1 Cor 14:24-25 NIV)  But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is PROPHESYING, he will be CONVINCED BY ALL that he is a SINNER and will be judged (or called to account) by all, {25} and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

The whole church, clearly proclaiming the truth of the gospel. Rather than everyone speaking in tongues. Convinces outsiders that they need to get right with God. And that the Christian church is a great group to be part of.

Practical Applications of these principles (26-40)

And on that high note, Paul finishes his theoretical section. Next he moves onto what that means on a practical, day-to-day, level.

How church meetings should LOOK DIFFERENT because of these principles. Look at v26.

(1 Cor 14:26 NIV)  What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.

They’re the different things you should do during your service. A song, a prayer, a sermon, a message. And so on.

And then Paul gives the first of two broad rules. Two GUIDELINES when it comes to deciding what to include. And what to leave out.

All of these must be done for the STRENGTHENING of the church.

He also adds INSTRUCTION and ENCOURAGEMENT in v31.

So if something doesn’t STRENGTHEN, INSTRUCT, or ENCOURAGE, CUT IT OUT! It’s got no place in a church service. Should you let Ross and Gordon do their liturgical dance in church? Does it encourage? No? Then don’t include it?

And then right at the end, we see guideline 2. Look down at v40.

(1 Cor 14:40 NIV)  But everything should be done in a FITTING and ORDERLY way.

Because if things AREN’T done in an orderly way. Then COMMUNICATION isn’t CLEAR. And church doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Because people can’t HEAR the word of encouragement over the RACKET of everyone else talking.

And the reason Paul has to make THIS point. Is because there are three DIS-orderly groups at Corinth. Three sets of people who are making it hard for everyone else. The tongue-speakers. The Prophets, and the women.

And Paul’s got some specific instructions for each group. First, the tongue-speakers. Look at v27.

(1 Cor 14:27-28 NIV)  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, ONE AT A TIME, and SOMEONE MUST INTERPRET. {28} If there is no interpreter, THE SPEAKER SHOULD KEEP QUIET IN THE CHURCH and speak to himself and God.

One at a time. And don’t hog the limelight. Let two or three speak. You don’t have to pop up every week. And KEEP QUIET if there’s no interpreter.

That’s doing things in an orderly way!

Secondly, there’s the prophets. Verses 29.

(1 Cor 14:29-33 NIV)  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. {30} And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should STOP. {31} For you can all prophesy IN TURN so that EVERYONE MAY BE INSTRUCTED AND ENCOURAGED.

Once again. Only two or three. You don’t ALL have to have a go. And if God gives a message to someone sitting down, then the one who’s speaking can BE QUIET. Take turns. Don’t hog the limelight. Or else it’s a circus. And NOONE gets instructed.

And THAT’s not doing things in an orderly way.

And finally, to the women. Look at v34-35

(1 Cor 14:34-35 NIV)  women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. {35} If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

It’s probable that the women were sitting in a section of their own. Men on one side. And women on the other. And it’s POSSIBLE that they were talking away. Either when a prophet was speaking. Or perhaps when everyone else was weighing-up what they’d said.

Perhaps even calling out across the room. To the husband. “Honey, did he just say we’re to suffer like Jesus did? Honey!”

(“I AM suffering. I AM suffering”)

And JUST LIKE THE OTHER TWO GROUPS. Paul tells THE WOMEN to be silent. When someone else is speaking. Be orderly. Keep quiet. Listen. So you can learn. That’s the whole point.

And if you DON’T understand. Ask when you get home.

And THAT’s doing things in an orderly way.

And that’s the end of Paul’s BOOK OF CHURCH PRACTICE. It’s taken up three chapters in his letter. And now he summarises what he’s said.

Verse 39. Be eager to prophesy (because that’s the clearest method of communicating). But don’t forbid speaking in tongues (it’s useful. But only if it’s interpreted.) That’s the summary of Ch 12, 13, and 14 up to v25.

And then verse 40. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. Because that’s the best way to make sure everyone learns and is built-up. And that’s his summary of verses 26-38.

We’re generally a pretty ORDERLY bunch. Perhaps that’s a challenge that needs to go to some of our Pentecostal brothers.

But what about “be EAGER to prophesy”? Are you BUSTING to tell others what God is teaching you? Are you zealous about encouraging? Do you PURSUE opportunities. Put yourself out to comfort and encourage and build-up?

Do you PRAY that God would give you the GIFT to PROPHESY. To speak God’s word in a relevant way into peoples’ lives.

Be eager to prophesy.

And what about WEIGHING –UP what people say? How often do you TAKE THE TIME to think through the applications of what God’s saying? My guess is we don’t have enough SILENCE in church. We like to fill it up with noise. Let’s give God the opportunity to work in us through what other people say.

And let’s do it ALL in LOVE.

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