Summary: Paul instructs us to value all gifts of the Spirit equally to build up the body of Christ and to create diversity in unity
Sermon on 1 Corinthians 14.1 – 14.19 : Gifts of prophecy and tongues.
We continue this evening looking at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and as you will have discovered last week, the letter revolves around the theme of problems in Christian conduct in the church, and the continuing development of holiness of character, revealing Paul’s true Ministers heart for their problems. Last week it was the problem of food sacrificed to idols, and this week in 1 Corinthians 14 we see discussed the issue of speaking in tongues. This is part of an overall discussion on spiritual gifts, of which the Corinthians were particularly proud that they had these and were able to use them during worship. And as is often characteristic of Paul, he issues a warning to the church to ensure that ecstatic speech is only inspired by the Holy Spirit. He would have had no doubt, and neither would his audience , that there were other spirits capable of inspiring such speech. So Paul gets to work immediately by helping the church to identify such speech as from the Holy Spirit; it is all down to content, and he gives this fact prominence earlier in the letter in chapter 12. This is the touchstone of all spiritual gifting; that it is the work of the Holy Spirit of God almighty to bear witness to the Lordship of Christ. So unless it follows this most important criteria, it is not from God.
He then continues to deal with some important questions that have been asked by the congregation; Which are the most important gifts, and can someone who does not have the gifts be counted a Christian at all?
There was no rivalry between those who had certain gifts and those who did not, and you can imagine argument taking place about which gift made who Holy.
Paul quashes this at the outset by stating that the gifts of the Spirit are shared out among Christians; all do not receive the same gift, but all gifts come from the spirit so that there is no room for rivalry discontent or a feeling of superiority. Gifts are not occasions for boasting, but are opportunities of service, to the community and through the community to the Lord. Paul’s point is clear; Christians differ from each other and in much the same way that we have different gifts of service ; some are good at practical things, others at academic, some are good with people, others are good with concepts, and so it is with the spiritual gifts; uniformity of experience is not to be expected, and just because someone has a certain gift, does not mean that everyone will, and one gift is not superior to another; Paul is adamant about this; all gifts come from the same source; the Holy Spirit of God, which is the source of boundless energy and power; they are all given with one purpose; to love and serve the Lord and the community of God. There are indeed, many gifts: Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, tongues, and their interpretation are listed her in Paul’s letter, and again Paul emphasises that it is not for us to choose our gift as if we are going to the Spiritual sweet shop to make our selection; the Spirit chooses what gifts we should have, so that no one will have occasion for boasting or to feel inferior. The gifts are a sign of the free grace of God by which the church exists. And of course our passage is preceded by the great hymn to love in chapter 13 that often gets used at weddings; in fact, this hymn is used by Paul to state the obvious; that the quarrelling in the church about the ranking of the gifts, about who is more important than who, about who is more spiritual, is like a clanging cymbal or a sounding gong; utterly useless. What is most important is that the gifts of the spirit are used to build each other up in love; everything else will fade away unless the underlying motivation in their use is love; love for the Lord and love for each other, so that no one will feel left out; no one will feel inferior. Love is the overriding factor both in the Corinthian church and here at Christchurch; we are part of the same body of Christ and we are here to build each other up and to serve God in love. Anything less is unacceptable.
So this is a great basis from which to talk about tongues; for while Paul regards the use of tongues as legitimate, he also wants to curb the exaggerated importance the Corinthians attach to it; in fact, he much prefers the gift of prophecy in this chapter, and he puts down some markers; tongues should not be used in public if there is no interpreter, as this does not build the body up.