Summary: Prophecy -- clear proclamation of God’s Word -- is the greatest gift of the tongue.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 14:12-20

February 8, 2004 – The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany


Did you know that Saints wide receiver Joe Horn was fined $30,000 for using his cell phone? It’s true. You may remember the premeditated phone call. Horn had just scored a touchdown against the New York Giants, and in celebration he pulled a phone from the goal post padding, pretending to make a call to announce his achievement. The whole incident was labeled “unsportsmanlike conduct.” And the NFL commissioner made it clear that he was serious about putting an end to such excessive end-zone antics.

Nobody likes a showoff. That applies to every aspect of life. Whether it’s on a football field, the workplace, the classroom, or even church, God’s Word reminds us that the Lord does not look with favor on braggarts. And so the Lord offers his Word to us today as instruction and encouragement for our Christian living. This morning St. Paul teaches us: CHRISTIANS ARE NOT SHOWBOATS. 1) We Use Our Gifts to Worship our Lord, and 2) We Use Our Gifts to Build Up Each Other.

1) We Use Our Gifts To Worship Our Lord

Corinth was the largest of the mission congregations Paul had served. It was a troubled congregation. They suffered with cliques because many of them played favorites with their pastors. Many of the Christians were lawsuit happy and dragged one another to court. Like many Americans who make too much of their “rights,” there were many Christians in Corinth who abused their Christian freedom. They advocated perverse immorality, and tolerated disorderly worship.

Still, St. Paul loved these people. He reminded them that God also loved them. It was God who brought them together through a common faith in Christ Jesus. In chapter 12 St. Paul writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Just as a human body has many parts to it, so does the body of Christ – the assembly of believers. And then the apostle continues to list the various gifts God the Holy Spirit has given to different believers – prophets, teachers, etc.

In the chapter before us, chapter 14, the apostle focuses on two specific gifts that were given to the church. Paul mentions them: the gift of tongue speaking and the gift of prophecy. Now, in between chapters 12 and 14 is, of course, chapter 13. This is the chapter in which St. Paul describes the virtues of love: Love is patient, love is kind. The apostle is not describing human emotion or sentiment. He is talking about the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus. It is this love, which is the greatest gift of all that God has given to the Christian church. Without this love even the greatest gifts and noblest deeds have no value.

Now, the Corinthians were extremely proud of their gift of speaking in tongues. It seems that this was the “en vogue” experience Christians turned to in order to authenticate their genuineness as a believer. The Corinthians were showboating; strutting about as if they were superior to others because they apparently had a spiritual gift that seemed impressive. And they weren’t very kind or patient towards others who didn’t have this special “en vogue” sign of the Spirit.

St. Paul, who himself spoke in tongues, describes the experience: “for if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” It seems that this was a legitimate gift that God had bestowed on Christians, but the apostle Paul explains that it was only beneficial for that particular person. The mind was unfruitful. It was disengaged. Perhaps this tongue-speaking experience could be compared to something we do all the time. While we take a walk or wash the dishes or whatever, we may hum or even sing a favorite song. We do so without even thinking about the words. We have the words memorized so we can sing them without even consciously pondering them in our minds. We can say that we are singing “with the spirit”, but the mind is detached. Is such an activity worthless? Of course not. It can be uplifting, but the fact remains that our mind is fruitless. That’s how St. Paul described this gift of tongue speaking.

So what does Paul conclude? He says: So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. It’s best to engage both the mind and the spirit when worshipping. When we pray, when we sing, we worship. Worship is to benefit us. Our worship is to actually engage us, not simply to entertain us or tug on our emotions. Unfortunately, we live in a world where many churches resemble Corinth. Today, worship focuses more on emotion than instruction. Many so-called “Christian songs” today have nice music and pretty words, but say virtually nothing about clear, biblical truth.

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