Summary: The gifts of the Spirit have split churches and keep Christians apart – and they bewilder non-Christians – so that the church becomes a circus than a place to get saved. But there are good reasons for the gifts if used properly.
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With all the controversy over spiritual gifts – why have them at all? The gifts of the Spirit have split churches and keep Christians apart – and they bewilder non-Christians – so that the church becomes a circus than a place to get saved.
I think the problem is two fold: 1 – our definition of spiritual gifts is too narrow – and 2 we use the gifts we know in the wrong way for the wrong motivation.
Bottom line: we don’t let love be our motivator – but as humans we like two things: to feel important and not to be questioned. Improper use of the gifts – especially Tongues – gets us that. We seem important because we have such an “impressive” gift – and because no one knows what we’re saying, no one can question us. Paul has some strong words about that.
Let’s see how this plays out starting in verse 1:
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
So following from the end of chapter 12 and all of chapter 13, Paul says “love is tops” and if we follow love – we can then move on to desire spiritual gifts. But without love – without the motivation to benefit others rather than ourselves – then why bother. And we’ll see as we walk through this that selfish ambition and pride were often more of a motivator for spiritual gifts than love.
Paul gives special emphasis on prophecy as opposed to speaking in tongues. He’ll develop that as we move on here – but a word about these gifts. First I would encourage you to pick up our tape on Acts 2 to get some explanation of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit – but suffice it to say that I believe the gifts given by the Spirit are primarily to be used for evangelizing and, as we see here, for building up the body of Christ.
Prophecy, and speaking in tongues are among the more up front of the gifts – especially speaking in tongues, and the Corinthian church had some real problems using this gift.
2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
Often Pentecostal churches make a mistake here – they have someone speak in tongues and then someone else speaks a prophecy – but from Acts 2 to here I think it is pretty clear that a tongue interpreted should be spoken to God.
There is also a difference between a prayer language, which is available to believers if the Spirit wills – and the gift of Tongues. A prayer language could be used anytime – and we get to that in verse 13. A gift of Tongues would be a public utterance that should be interpreted.
Paul is comparing and contrasting tongues and prophecy and their benefits or lack thereof to the body and to unbelievers.
3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
Prophecy, more than “foretelling” is in the New Testament “forth telling” of the truth of God. But it should always have these three characteristics: strengthening, encouraging, and comforting. I know a lot of people who go around saying “thus saith the Lord” and what comes out of their mouths is none of those things.
Paul says if you speak in tongues you are not edifying anyone other than yourself – but prophecy builds up the church.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?
Paul says – teaching or exhorting is more important than whether I speak in a tongue – church is not a show, but it is a time for the body to be built up. We in the church sometimes treat it more as a performance. Paul uses two examples to drive home his point:
7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.