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1 Corinthians 14

September 30th, 2012 by Vic

1 Corinthians 14

“Does it edify self or others?”

September 30, 2012


This is a chapter of contrasts.  Paul has just said that love does not edify itself; it does not seek its own.  So pay attention what you are doing in worship.  Does it edify self or edify the church body?  Do you go to church to feel good or to live out the love of God?  Do you go to get something out of it or to put something in it?


This is not a popular chapter to preach on.  Paul addresses speaking and women asking questions in church.  It is not easy to hear the heart of Paul.  He is not pleased with what they are doing, but he does not want to be critical.  He wants to show them a better way to live and worship.


14:1  “You all pursue eagerly the love.”  Work hard at growing a God-like heart of love.   Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to pursue visible gifts or signs, but pursue love.  The love that we are to pursue is ‘the love’ Paul just defined in chapter 13.

And also desire the spirituals, especially so that you may prophecy.”  According to 12:1 they were neglecting the ‘spirituals’, the Fruit of the Spirit.  Their proclamation of the gospel would be better if they focused on spirituals.  The word prophecy means to proclaim or bring to light.  For Paul the prophet was a teacher, admonisher, and comforter (14:3,31).  He edified others and not himself.


14:2-3  This verb “speak” in verse 2 occurs 24 times in this chapter, which is more than any other chapter in the NT.  Speaking was a problem in this church.  “When I was a child I spoke as a child” (13:11).  When you speak as a prophet you should be understood.


For the one speaking a tongue, not to men is he speaking, but to God for no one hears.”  Paul is comparing tongues to prophesy. The word ‘tongue’ is used 50 times in the NT; 15 in this chapter.  Sometimes it is singular and sometimes it is plural.  The word literally means the tongue in your mouth, but is used to mean language, dialect, tribe, or nation.  The context here seems to suggest that the person speaking a tongue is not understood by the hearers.  Corinth was a port city.  Many languages were spoken.  Also there may have been ecstatic utterances in the church like there were in pagan temples.


The word for ‘hear’ only occurs 4 times in this whole letter.


The point of Paul’s argument here is that if no one understands (hears) you, you might as well shut up or stay home and talk to God in your closet or your own little temple as the pagans do.  The purpose of the church is to build one another up, not you.  Don’t contribute to background noise that people do not hear.


When Paul used the word ‘mysteries’ the Corinthians would have thought of all the pagan secret societies and worship practices common in the temples.  For the mature Christian there are no mysteries that have not been revealed by Christ.  We believe in a God who wants to be understood.  He wants us to know him.  His Spirit will teach us all things so nothing is hidden in mystery.


But the one prophesying to men, he is speaking edification, and counsel, and tender comfort.”  The word edification is commonly used for building houses, temples, and pyramids.  This edify idea is repeated in 14:4,5,12,17,26.  Paul wanted them to build one another, not criticize one another.


The second result of this one speaking in verse 3 is counsel.  We use the Greek word ‘Paraclete’ for the Holy Spirit.  It is one called alongside.  Paul is saying that a Christian speaking the words of God will be speaking edification and counsel.


The third result of this one speaking in verse 3 is tender comfort.  This word is only used here in the NT.  The prefix means near, beside, along side.  The root meaning is speech.  It is used of telling children bedtime stories, fables, and fairy tales.  The basic sense is to speak to someone in a friendly way.  An accurate translation is limited by the rareness of occurrences.


The preceding word seems to have more of an active sense of comfort like an advocate, helper, or supporter.  That is the kind of comfort where I know the situation and I am enabled to quote Scripture to actively help.  This latter word seems to suggest a more subjective and quiet form of comfort, the kind you give and do not know you are helping anyone.  It is the comfort that is transferred by your presence and not by the words.


14:4-5  True gifts will edify the church.  The Corinthians were saying, “everything is permissible.  We are free in Christ.”  Paul said our freedom is limited by our love for others.  10:24 said, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  Here Paul says our freedom in worship is limited by its benefit to the church.  Am I edifying the church?  There is no place in the NT where gifts are for personal edification.  We are stewards of God’s grace to build others (1 Pet 4:10).


The word ‘church’ is used 115 times in the NT including 9 times in this chapter which is only equaled by the 2nd chapter of Revelation.  Paul is talking to the church.


But if I desire all of you to be speaking tongues.”  Remember, Paul never wanted ‘all’ to have the same gift.  The teaching in chapter 12 is that everybody does not do the same things.  So Paul is not giving us a guideline to follow here but an exaggerated hypothetical situation.


He used the same word ‘greater’ in 13:13.  As faith, hope, and love are similar in some ways, so all Christians are similar in some ways.  But as love is greater than faith and hope, so the preacher is greater than the speaker of tongues, not in merit, but in ministry or function.  We are all different as God has determined.


The Jews had an official interpreter in the synagogue who translated the Scripture readings and sermons during worship into Aramaic.  The grammar here suggests that the speaker himself is the interpreter, but if the speaker understands what he is saying, why would he need to speak in a tongue?


The church receives edification when each member of the body is functioning properly.


14:6-8  “But now brothers if…”  Paul wants to suggest another hypothetical situation.  The ‘if’ with the subjunctive suggests a situation that we know is very unlikely.  Paul is not saying he will come to them speaking tongues.  That is not his point here.  He is giving us an exaggerated hypothetical situation to illustrate the principle he is trying to teach the church.


The four ministries he mentions are parallel phrases.  Paul is not inferring that these 4 are all the ministries of the church.  These are the ones that come to his mind as illustrations of ways the tongue can be used for edification and benefit.  In contrast to the babble of words and rituals heard in a pagan place of worship, Paul says when he visits a church he wants to build them up; he wants them to understand him.  If his speech is not understandable it is not profitable.


Just as the lifeless things giving a sound.”  Paul has just used himself as an illustration in verse 6.  Now he will illustrate his point with other things that make noise.  Just as words without meaning are worthless, so other sounds can be cacophonic or meaningful.  The word ‘sound’ is only used by Paul here in 14:7,8,10,11, Gal 4:20, and 1 Thes 4:16.  In this chapter the NIV translates the same word 3 different ways, so the translation misses the continuity.


There are a lot of sounds in the world.  Many are just background noise without meaning.  If the sound is foreign to the hearer, what value is it?  No one can know the tune if the notes are random and out of order.  You see what Paul has done here in verse 8.  He has exaggerated the improbable illustrations of verses 6 and 7 to emphasize his point that sound is only beneficial if it is understood.  Sound will help no one except maybe the one making the noise unless the sound is understood!


14:9-12  “In such a condition also you are with the tongue…”  You make sounds, but if you do not  speak clearly you are talking to the wind.


Think of all the sounds in the world.  All nations have sounds.  The NIV translates the word sound as ‘sound’ in verse 7, ‘call’ in 8, and ‘languages’ and ‘meaning’ in 10.  There are many languages in the world.  Everybody and anybody can make sounds.


Therefore unless I understand the power (‘meaning’ NIV) of the sound, I will be to the one speaking a Barbarian and the one speaking to me a Barbarian.”  If you did not speak Greek in church you were considered a Barbarian.


Paul again says, “So it is with you.”  Even you who desire spirituals, make sure you are edifying the church.


14:13-15  “For this very reason…”  What reason is Paul referring to?  Edification.  Every sound in the church must be understood so it contributes to the edification of the body.  Sound has no value unless it is understood.


The word prayer is only used 6 times in the Corinthian letters and 3 are in the verses 13-15.  The other 3 are in chapter 11.  Paul did not say much about prayer.  Apparently they were already praying regularly.  But they had not thought about praying for translators, or praying that their hearers could understand.


For if I am praying a tongue…”  This ‘if’ again suggests a very remote possibility.  If I am only praying in my spirit, I am not praying in love.  If it is just for me to feel good, I am not praying in love.  Our minds must be in gear to worship God and edify others.  We are to have the mind of Christ.  Our minds must be growing, changing, and being renewed into His likeness (Rom. 12:2).


“So what’s my point?  If I’m going to pray, I will pray with everything I have (15).”  Paul did not worship God with his mind in neutral.  Paul did not worship God with just his emotions or just his mind or just his body or just his spirit.  “I will make music with the spirit, I will make music moreover also with the mind.”  Unknown words have no value to the individual or the church.  Mental nonchalance has no place in worship.


14:16-19  The NIV uses the word ‘praising’ to translate the Greek word ‘eulogy’.  It also inserts the word ‘God’ which is not in the Greek text.  Kittel’s Theological Dictionary says, “In I Cor. 14:16 ‘eulogein’ is used in the sense of a cultic action…”(2:763).  The mystery religions used white magic and black magic to bless and curse like religions do today.  They used gestures, words, and spirits.


Some Corinthians were thinking, now if pagans could use spirits to bless, how much more should believers be able to use the Holy Spirit to bless.  Paul does not tell us if he is referring to a pagan spirit here or the spirit of a man or the Holy Spirit.  It is not real important to identify which spirit because we are talking again of a remote hypothetical situation and the conclusion of Paul is the same for any interpretation: bless with understanding so it edifies.


“…the one filling up the place of the common man…”  This is an individual in the church that has different abilities than I have.  He is filling his responsibilities completely.  He is occupying his place of ministry so I am selfish and out of place to say something that he does not understand.


“…how will he be saying the amen upon your thanksgiving since what you are saying he stands not knowing.”  You may like to talk, but Paul suggests it has to be understood so others can at least say ‘amen’.  Others need to understand your praise to God.  They should be able to confirm that what you are saying is true.  If I can’t say amen to your prayer, I must not agree.  There is something wrong with me or your prayer if I cannot say amen.  So no matter what spirit you are using to bless with, you must be understood.  And if you are blessing in a spirit no one will understand, you are doing no good.  Blessing and thanksgiving are a part of our worship if we can all say amen.


This chapter is giving us at least 3 principles and guidelines for proper worship in the local church.  First, everything that is said must be understood.  Second, everything that is said must be edifying.  Third, everything that is said must be orderly.


I am thanking God I am speaking more languages than you all.”  Down at the docks, many languages were spoken.  “But in church I would rather five words with the mind of me to speak in order that also others I might instruct (catechism), than ten thousand words in a language.”  The comparative word ‘than’ is used 10 times in this chapter (5, 6, 7, 19, 23, 24, 27, 29, 36, 37).  Paul has been comparing the way they were doing things in the church with the way of love.  What they were doing may be proper, but it was not the better way.  Paul never tells them to quit speaking; he only shows a better way to use their gifts.


14:20-22 It seems that when Paul says “brothers”, it is not to complement them, but to correct them.  He avoids elevating himself above them while he focuses on a problem that was hindering the church.


Brothers, you all stop being little children in your thinking…”  This is a command to stop something that is now going on.  “…but you all be babies in evil…”  There are some things it is smart to be dumb about.  In evil be dumb and in thinking be smart.


Do you remember what God told Isaiah?  When God’s children sin, He will speak to them in strange languages.  God speaks clearly to believers through preaching (1:21); they do not need the tongues.  Just like Isaiah said, the ones who listen to the preachers (God’s mouthpieces) will not be punished with tongues.  Paul knew that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the captivity; however, he now applies that Scripture to the church in Corinth.  While Isaiah spoke of Jewish unbelievers, Paul is about to apply the truth to Greek unbelievers.


Tongues are a sign (22).  Jesus is pleased with those who do not require a sign as Thomas did.  Jesus stayed with the Samaritans 3 days because they did not require a sign like the Jews did.


Kittel’s Theological Dictionary has an 80 page discussion of the word prophecy.  He says, The Egyptian and Canaanite prophets of Baal spoke with ecstatic utterances often being accompanied with musical instruments (6:797).  The prophet of God spoke clearly to be understood.  Prophets may have experienced an ecstasy in the receiving of the word, but the proclamation was always clear.  Samuel, Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel and others had spiritual visions that revealed the truth of God to them, but they tried to write and speak with understanding.  The prophetic utterance was a clear proclamation.  Emotions are a by-product and not an end in themselves.


14:26-33 The bottom line is, “Let all things be done in the church for edifying.”  In the Greek culture every man was a lawyer and an orator.  Everyone came to worship with something to say.  And it is common to think that what I have to say is really important.  Some may have brought a song to sing, others a reading from the Hebrew Bible, others a new revelation or a new understanding of a common scripture.  There was no professional ministry to set up an order of worship.  How do you set up worship?


1. edification (26).  2. one at a time (27).  3. understandable (27).  4. limits preachers and requires teachers to discern and confirm what has been preached (29).  5. allows a revelation to interrupt a speaker (30).  However he does not just stand up and start speaking, but gets permission then waits for his turn.  He will have control of his spirit (32).  The Spirit gives no uncontrollable gifts.


Worship must be orderly.  We serve a God of order and peace in all the churches (33).  There is no edification where there is confusion.


There were apparently some women who were being disorderly.  This is not against women speaking in church.  1 Cor 11:5 suggests that woman are praying out loud and prophesying in the church.  The prophet Joel said that the Holy Spirit would come upon all people not just kings, priests, and prophets.  Paul tells Timothy to have the older women teach the younger women in church.  In contrast the Greek philosopher Sophocles said silence confers grace on a woman.  The Rabbis said to teach the law to a woman was to “cast pearls before swine.”


The freedom of Christian women was causing problems.  Some women were asking questions (35) in such a way to be combative or arrogant rather than submissive.  Paul has already written about the principle of Creation and submission (11:10).  Paul is not addressing godly women here, but women who are asking loaded questions.  His admonition is against asking questions.


Do you think you are the only church that God speaks to?  Your order of worship is not the standard for everyone.  Paul is giving them some principles that apply to all the churches.


Focus on the Word of God and spirituals (39).  Don’t forbid languages or any other charismatics (39).   Don’t be critical.  (Follow Paul’s example.)  Some things are not worth arguing about.  Just love one another.  Worship decently and orderly (40).

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