Building Up One Another
1 Corinthians 14:1-25
November 08, 2020
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
This is the Word of God.
Since the 70s and 80s, one of the most divisive theological controversies has been over the charismatic gifts and particularly the gift of tongues. For the last generation or so, there has been serious heat over whether or not the charismatic gifts are still operational today and whether or not believers experience one or more of these charismatic gifts. When I was at seminary, this was a hot button topic. Some students firmly believe that the gift of tongues is something every true believer experiences. Others firmly believe that these gifts ceased at the end of the Apostolic age. Others believe that these gifts continue but not necessarily as miraculous manifestations. Thankfully, the heat that surrounded this discussion even ten years ago has died down.
Paul has been addressing issues in the church at Corinth; he has been calling them to maturity. Since chapter 11, Paul has been addressing issues in worship. Some of the women were dressing immodestly when they came into worship. They were divided when they came to the Lord’s Table. They were fighting over which gifts were better. Paul has made clear that all of the gifts that God has given to His Church is for our good.
Here in this passage, Paul deals with two particular gifts, tongues and prophecy. As we examine this passage, we’ll see that all of the gifts God has given are meant for the up building of one another.
Desire the Gifts But Especially Prophecy
As we’ve seen in previous sections, Corinth had serious issues. And one of the issues revolved around the gifts of the Spirit. And they especially revolved around the gift of tongues. It seems as though the Corinthians revered the gift of speaking in tongues and held it in higher honor than other gifts. They were interrupting the worship service in order to speak in a tongue and bring themselves honor and prominence. They were interrupting the service so that they could show they had been given this gift and were to be more honored than those with other gifts.
That’s why Paul made clear that all of the gifts come from God and all are necessary for the Church (ch. 12). He spent an entire chapter making clear that even the less fantastic gifts, like hospitality, are just as important and just as necessary to the mission of the Church.
Here Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”. He wants the Corinthians, and he wants us, to follow the more excellent way of love. We looked at that two weeks ago. We are to live in the love of Christ; we are to understand how he is the embodiment of love and we ourselves will gradually begin to embody that love as well. When it says “pursue”, it could be translated as “pursue continually”. Let us never cease pursuing to embody the love of Christ. Let us continually dive deeper into the love of God at the cross and be transformed by it.
Paul also says desire the spiritual gifts. We should desire all of the gifts. We should desire the priestly gifts so that we can care for one another and our community. Priestly gifts are caring, counseling, healing, and encouraging. God has given the Church priestly gifts so that we can care for the physical and emotion needs of believers. We should desire the kingly gifts so that the elders can lead the church in holiness. We should desire to see members exercise priestly and kingly gifts.
But Paul says that we should especially desire the gift of prophecy. By prophecy Paul means the ability to explain God’s purposes as recorded in Scripture and call people to faithfulness. Pastor Stephen Um defines prophecy as “intelligible speech by which God calls his people to fidelity and faithfulness (i.e., it is not primarily predictive)”. Prophecy is not primarily predictive. Prophecy is primarily the explaining of God’s word to his people and calling them to live according to it. That is what the prophets in the Old Testament did. Think of Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah. They constantly and consistently called God’s covenant people back to God. They called the people to be faithful to the covenant they had made with God as found throughout the Pentateuch and the Psalms. Prophecy today is explaining how all of Scripture points us to Christ and his redeeming work on the cross or flows from it and calling people to live as God says. That is prophecy. And we are to desire to see that gift in the Church most of all.
Misusing God’s Gifts to Us
While we should desire that all of the gifts are used here in the Church, we can also misuse them. That is exactly what the Corinthians were doing. They were misusing the gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. There is considerable debate over what exactly the gift of tongues was or is but I’m not going to take us down that path this morning. Suffice to say, the Corinthians were speaking in tongues randomly throughout the service.
If you read this passage and the next, you’ll get this impression that the Corinthians had a very high view of the gift of tongues. They seemed to believe that it was the most wonderful gift and that they held it in higher esteem than other gifts. In thinking that it was a better gift than other gifts, they were interrupting the worship service and speaking in tongues without an interpreter.
Why? Why were they doing that? They were using that gift for their own individual ends. Paul writes, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself”. They wanted to show others they had that gift. In doing so, they used that gift for their own ends. That is misuse of God’s gift.
The gift of tongues is meant to share the good news of Christ Jesus with all peoples and nations. Not all people spoke Greek in the ancient world. Not all people speak English today. How can we tell people they stand condemned in their sin unless we speak their language? How can we then tell people of the good news that Christ has lived the perfect life we never could; that he has died the death everyone who believes deserves; that he rose on the third day so that in him we could have new life unless we speak their language? The reason that God has given to the Church the gift of tongues is so that we can share the gospel with all nations, tribes, and peoples.
That’s what we see in Acts 2. In Acts 2, the Apostles and other believers were in the upper room praying. And as they were praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon them like a flaming tongues and they began to proclaim the gospel in the language of the Medes, Arabs, Parthians, and others. They told people who didn’t know Greek the good news of Christ Jesus. That is why God has given the gift of tongues to his Church. But that’s not how the Corinthians were using it. They were using it bring glory to themselves and not God.
And by misusing the gift, they rendered it ineffective. Paul likens it to an out of tune of harp. If you play an out of tune harp, how can someone sing to its melody? They can’t. It’s just noise. Or if a trumpet doesn’t play a note but just a noise, how will people know to gather for battle? By speaking in tongues without an interpreter, the Corinthians were misusing that particular gift and rendering it ineffective.
Whenever we use the gifts that God has given us for our own ends, we misuse gifts and make them ineffective. Maybe God has gifted us with the gift of hospitality. If we only ever invite people over who are like us and ignore people who are new, we misuse the gift. Whenever we invite people over so that they praise our homes or our cooking, we misuse our gift. The gift becomes ineffective because God has given us the gift of hospitality so that we can invite in new believers and welcome them into the family of Christ. Or Maybe God has given us the gift of faith, the ability to lead in difficult times. If we use that gift to make a name for ourselves, then we misuse that gift. We can misuse any gift when we make it about us and our individual ends. And the gift becomes ineffective.
Misusing the gifts that God has given us doesn’t only render them ineffective, those same gifts ultimately become a sign of judgment against us. In verse 21 and 22, Paul writes, “In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”
Paul is quoting Isaiah 28:11. In context, Isaiah is pronouncing judgment on Israel and Judah for having broken covenant with God. They had worshiped idols like Baal, Molech, and Ashterah instead of the one true God. They had sacrificed their children instead of caring for them. They had forsaken the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbath year, and the Grand Sabbath. They had broken covenant with God. And because they had broken covenant with God, God was sending them into exile where they would hear the language of Assyrians and the Babylonians. Many would not turn from their sinful ways and worship the Lord. The tongues of the Assyrians and the Babylonians were a sign because they did not believe God.
Paul is warning them that unless they use the gift of tongues as God has intended, it will become a sign of judgment against them. They will hear languages they do not know in judgment because they did not believe the word of God.
When we misuse the gifts that God has given us, they lose their efficacy and they ultimately become signs of judgment against us. If we have the gift of hospitality but refuse to use with those who are new to the congregation and instead only use it with friends, that gift will become a sign of judgment against us.
In Matt.25, Jesus tells us that when he returns he will separate believers from unbelievers. To the unbelievers, he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me”. The fact that they did not exercise their gift of hospitality stood in judgment against them. If we have been given the gift of hospitality and we misuse it, it will become a sign of judgment against us.
If we have the gift of prophecy, the ability to proclaim God’s word, and use it so that we are glorified we misuse the gift God has given us. It will ultimately become a sign of judgment against us. If we have the gift of counseling and use it so to manipulate people into doing our will instead of counseling them to obey God’s word, we misuse the gift. And ultimately the gift will become a sign of judgment against us.
Building Up Others
So then what do we do with our gifts? We are to use them in building up others. In verses 24 and 25 Paul writes, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” He envisions the gifts being restored for their proper use. And when the gifts are restored to their proper use, the gospel rings like a clear note from a harp or piano.
Remember, the reason we have been given all of these gifts, including tongues and prophecy, is to build one another up in Christ. When we use the gifts that God has given us for that purpose, the gospel will be made clear and we will build one another up in it. When a non-believer comes into our worship service and sees the gifts used as God has intended, they will be convicted of the truth of the gospel. The mysteries of the gospel will be made clear when they see those with priestly gifts caring for the needs of people; the mysteries of the gospel will be made clear when they hear the good news proclaimed in intelligible ways; they mysteries of the gospel will be made clear when they see the elders leading people in holiness.
We should desire that all of the gifts are present here in our congregation. We should desire that God has gifted some of us with the prophetic gifts; preaching and teaching the gospel in intelligible language to all people. We should desire that God has gifted some of us with priestly gifts; gifts like healing, caring, and counseling. We should desire that God has gifted some of us with kingly gifts; gifts like faith, being able to see the end and know how we get there.
And we should use those gifts. We should use them not for our individual ends and glory. No. We should use them for the upbuidling of one another. Those of us who have been gifted with prophetic gifts are to use them to build people up in the faith. We are to be telling people of the good news. Those of us who have been gifted with priestly gifts are to use them to care for one another. And when we do that, we show that we have been transformed by the gospel. Those of us who have been gifted with the kingly gifts are to use them to lead the congregation so that we grow in holiness.
What if we have misused our gifts? Are we SOL? Are we damned? We have all misused the gifts that God has given us at one time or another. Here is the good news. The good news is that in Christ all of our sin has been placed on him. He has borne the wrath of God for how we have misused our gifts; he has borne the punishment for how we have used our gifts for our own individual ends.
If you have misused you gifts, you are in good company. Repent of your misuse, trust that Christ has borne your sin and shame, and use them for the upbuilding of those.
 Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians (Illinois; Crossway, 2015), 240-241.