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.
Yesterday we began to look at the gift of prophecy. Paul contrasts that gift with the gift of tongues in three areas. He says if prophecy is better for the church, if prophecy is better for the individual, and if prophecy is better for unbelievers than speaking in tongues, then you should desire prophecy. In the first place Paul says that prophecy, that is, communicating the Word of God in a clear way, is better than tongues because it helps the church to grow.
Speaking in tongues, unless there is somebody to interpret it, does not do that. That is why he laid the principle of interpretation down. Someone who sees somebody exercising this particular gift might be impressed. Nevertheless, that person is not edified by it. This is true of all the miraculous gifts.
Paul speaks elsewhere of the gift of healing. The gift of healing is obviously beneficial to the one who is healed. But he says that the same is not true of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues calls attention to the one who is doing it, but it does not edify the church in the church’s assemblies. What Paul wants is what he speaks about in verse 3: “Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” This matter of strengthening means the building up of the church. It is an interesting exercise to go through this chapter and see the number of times Paul speaks of building up, or edifying, or strengthening. What he means is that the time that is spent together in Christian worship should be beneficial and should be exercised in such a way that those who leave Christian worship may go out more learned in the things of God and more clearly able to apply them to their daily lives.
Secondly, he says that this ministry of prophecy should involve encouragement. It is a pity that we often forget that. We think that all that is necessary is to get the doctrine straight. Of course, that is very important. But not only was Paul a teacher in this sense, he was a pastor as well. He recognized that those to whom he spoke were often discouraged in their Christian lives or ministries. Even though we know what we should do and we try to do it, it seems to us sometimes that day after day, we bang our heads against a stone wall and nothing seems to happen. We are trying to be obedient to Christ. We are trying to preach and share the Word with all of the gifts at our disposal, but nothing seems to happen. It is very easy to get discouraged in those circumstances.
Paul says that one of the functions of prophecy, or preaching, is that it should encourage believers in the work that God has given them to do. One of the privileges I have as I meet pastors is to encourage them, because I find quite often that they are in difficult situations. They are trying to do a good job, but it is not easy. And so I talk to them about some of the difficulties I have had. I tell them that when you hang in there, sometimes it is when things seem most discouraging that God is actually at work, and in the future you will look back on it and will see what God was doing. That is a ministry of encouragement, and Paul says it is important.
The third thing he mentions is comfort. He says when we spend time together in our assemblies, there should also be a measure of comfort in what is said. In the eighteenth century, there was a great preacher in London by the name of James Parker. James Parker often spoke to young seminarians and ministers. He always said something like this: “Young men, when you preach in your churches, always preach to broken hearts because when you preach to broken hearts, you will never lack for an audience.”
He recognized that people, even Christian people, come to church with hurts. They come sometimes with wounds inflicted by ruptures in the past with family or other people. Sometimes great grief has come into their lives because of sickness, or death, or many other things. Paul’s teaching tells us that if you are really thinking about other people, if you are beginning to exercise the kind of love spoken about in the thirteenth chapter, you will recognize that people are hurting. So, in your worship services you won’t be trying to call attention to yourself as so many people do. But rather you will seek to do that which is helpful to others.
In what ways is prophecy better than speaking in tongues?
What three things should prophecy involve?
Read 1 Corinthians 14 in its entirety. On a separate piece of paper, write down each verse in which Paul speaks of building up, edifying, or strengthening. Think of practical ways in which you can build up, edify, encourage or strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ.