Summary: As nice as emotion may be, it is worship that edifies that counts.
Have you ever heard prophecy spoken? Have you heard a prophet speak forth a word from God intended for you? Could that happen today, here, in this church? Let’s consider what our passage has to tell us.
Here is the situation. The Corinth believers love speaking in tongues. They measure their spirituality and their giftedness according to their tongue-speaking ability. Paul says, first, understand that whatever gifts you may have, they all come from the same Spirit who gives as God so desires. Everybody has their gifts and equally belong to Christ’s body. God does not measure anyone according to their gifts; rather he measures them according to how they use the gifts given to them. What really matters is bearing the spiritual fruit of love, so that one’s gifts are being used in the spirit of love. In chapter 14, Paul gets straight to the issue of tongues and puts it in its place in the church, particularly in church worship. It is in the worship service that the Corinth tongue speakers are strutting their stuff; Paul will show them, through contrasting prophesy with tongues, that the true measure of a gift in worship is its ability to edify – to build up – the church body.
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.
Look with me at the three words given in verse 3. First, note “upbuilding.” This word is at the heart of the chapter, and I would be willing to say at the heart of the whole letter. Recall what is happening. Church members are suing one another. Factions are developing under the names of star church leaders. The well-to-do in society are shaming the lower cast, and so on. “Look,” Paul is saying, “you need to be in the business of building up, not tearing down the Church of Christ.
The King James Version has “edification” which captures well Paul’s intent. Webster’s dictionary defines edify as to “instruct, especially morally or spiritually; to uplift.” The word comes from the Latin word for “to build.” You get the idea. The purpose of prophesy is to build up the church body.
The next words reinforce this concept: encouragement and consolation. Prophesy is not to be used by the speaker to harm, to tear down, or to show off. The fruit of prophesy is a stronger church whose members are growing in faith. Not all prophesy will necessarily be comforting. Oftentimes the message may be to expose sin. But even then, the result is to lead the people to repentance, so that they return to fellowship with God and grow ever stronger in their faith.
Verse 4 makes Paul’s point clear as he contrasts tongues with prophesy: 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. The word for “builds up” is the same in verse 3. I want you to note who or what prophesy builds up; it is the church. The contrast between tongues and prophecy is not merely between personal benefit and benefiting someone else; it is between personal benefit and benefiting the whole church. The context in this chapter is speaking to the whole church body that has gathered for worship. Thus the speaker of prophesy is to speak a message that is for all to hear and not just for one or two individuals.