Is God Among You?
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Theme: Propriety in worship.
This week’s lessons remind us that in church we should strive to benefit others, not ourselves.
Every part of the Bible is relevant and helpful. But some parts speak to contemporary problems more than others. The fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of those. Someone once asked me a question to which this chapter speaks directly. This person had a friend in a charismatic fellowship who always insisted on speaking in tongues in a disruptive manner and when there was no one to interpret. He asked me what should be done, so I told him what 1 Corinthians 14 teaches.
1 Corinthians 14 says that unless there is someone there to interpret what is said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that it is beneficial to the entire church, the person who claims this gift should keep silent. This is the situation Paul faced with the Corinthians, and it is for this reason that the chapter was written.
These are the guidelines that Scripture gives. This practice of doing what you want in disregard of other people is a very modern phenomenon. It occurs in a variety of ways and does, at least in this instance, take place in this matter of speaking in tongues. What Paul is saying here is that what happens in the church should be beneficial to all. If something is not beneficial, no matter how good it may or may not be in itself, it should be avoided for the sake of other people.
Paul gave a number of guidelines in chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians on dealing with this matter of speaking in tongues, though the principles apply to other things as well. The first thing Paul says in chapter 12 is that this phenomenon of speaking in unknown tongues was not something that was unique to the Christian churches but also took place in pagan religions. Therefore, an occurrence of tongues is not necessarily evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is quite possible it could be the sign of the presence of another spirit, a demonic spirit, for example, or perhaps just the willful expression of the person who is practicing the alleged gift. This matter of speaking in tongues is not in itself proof that the person is filled with the Holy Spirit or necessarily even knows the Lord as Savior.
The second principle he mentions is that there are many gifts. Sometimes when people are aware of a gift they have, they put an undue emphasis upon it and treat it as if it were the only gift worth having. Paul sought to correct that sort of thinking. He points out that tongues is just one gift among many, and that all are valuable.
The third principle he lays down is that all the gifts are given for the benefit of the church. Therefore, when a gift is exercised, it should be exercised to edify.
The fourth principle that Paul lays down is that if you are going to rank the gifts, tongues should be placed relatively low on the list. In the closing paragraph of chapter 12, he says, “God has appointed first the apostles, second the prophets, third the teachers, then workers of miracles, and also those who have gifts of healing.” At the very end, he mentions tongues. It is proper to desire spiritual gifts that will be useful in the Christian ministry. But we should desire the best gifts and that means we should not seek to have this gift of tongues primarily. There are other things we should list higher. Then in the fourteenth chapter, he speaks of the dangers of this gift – the danger of disorder in the church and the danger of a lack of intellectual content.
Finally, at the end of the chapter he says: “Be eager to prophesy, but do not forbid teaching in tongues.” It is interesting that he does not say, “Don’t do it because this isn’t of God.” On the contrary he reaffirms it. He says it is of God. But, he says, it is only to be exercised in God’s way. Otherwise all you are really doing is calling attention to yourself. You’re saying that you’re the one whom everybody should focus on, and you fail to benefit the church. And you certainly don’t glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
How are we to use our spiritual gifts?
What limits does 1 Corinthians put on the practice of the gift of tongues?
What five principles does Paul give concerning the gift of tongues?