‘Seek the Good of Others’
Lesson Text:1 Corinthians 14:13-26
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:13-26
Devotional Reading: Titus 3:8-14
1 Corinthians 14:13-26 (KJV)
13Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
14For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
16Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
19Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
20Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
21In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.
22Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
23If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
26How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
To identify ways to create a group worship experience that is edifying.
To compare and contrast speaking in tongues with our own interest (personally rewarding), as oppose to speaking in tongues not edifying the church (without being explained).
To identify one practice in your church’s conduct of worship services that may be a barrier to unbelievers and discuss with church leaders a plan for change.
Introduction - Birth of a Movement
In 1906, William J. Seymour opened the Apostolic Faith Mission church in a modest, two-story building south of the Los Angeles city hall. Seymour was preaching a new type of message, and the church was quickly flooded with people. Seymour proposed that becoming a Christian was a three-step process: (1) salvation by faith, (2) cleansing sanctification of the believer by the Holy Spirit, and (3) filling of the believer by the Holy Spirit in a miraculous way.
The most prominent of the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit was said to be the ability to speak in tongues—ecstatic languages of prayer and worship. Seymour and others declared that this was a restoration of the gifts of the first-century church as depicted in the book of Acts. What Seymour launched came to be known as the Azusa Street Revival, which lasted until about 1915.
Many churches came into being as a result, and these came to be known as Pentecostal churches. Later, a similar movement of people known as charismatics began to develop within many denominations. Charismatics often encountered hostility in churches that did not accept the practice of speaking in tongues. Despite opposition, the charismatic movement has grown. It is estimated that 500 million Christians today are charismatic or Pentecostal—25 percent of all Christians worldwide.
The practice of speaking in tongues was controversial in Paul’s day. It is still controversial today because many believe that the miraculous spiritual gifts, including the ability to speak in tongues, ceased with the completion of the New Testament; this is known as cessationism. Regardless of which view is preferred, it’s clear that there are principles in Paul’s instructions that still apply. The apostle wanted his readers to value all spiritual gifts and be careful to use their special abilities in love (see 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13).
Paul wrote letters to the churches in Rome, Corinth, the region of Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. Yet in all of his letters, Paul addressed the issue of speaking in tongues only with the church in Corinth, and only in 1 Corinthians. (The other New Testament texts that address this subject are Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6.) Paul’s lengthy discussion of tongues in 1 Corinthians indicates that this was a point of controversy within the Corinthian church.
Scholars within Pentecostal churches generally divide the phenomenon into two categories. One category is glossolalia, defined as a worship language that does not communicate by itself, but needs interpretation. Sometimes this is called a prayer language (based on 1 Corinthians 14:14), a worship language (based on 14:15), or the language of angels (based on 13:1). The other general category is xenoglossia, the miraculous ability to speak in an existing foreign language that the speaker has not studied. The purpose is usually for evangelism, as in Acts 2.
One thing to keep in mind as we study this lesson is that not everyone in the Corinthian church spoke in tongues. We can see this fact in a series of seven rhetorical questions that Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 12:29, 30. The sixth of these is ‘Do all speak in tongues?’ The expected answer to this and to the other six questions is no.
Paul has already said several things about speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 by the time we get to the opening wherefore of today’s text: it is speaking to God (v. 2a), is a spiritual mystery (v. 2b), and is primarily for self-edification (v. 4). Paul also expressed a personal desire that all the Corinthians speak in tongues (v. 5), but he further taught that prophesying was to be preferred over speaking in tongues ‘except he interpret’ (v. 5).
Seeking to Understand: 1 Corinthians 14:13-17
1. What did Paul say about the understanding of speaking in tongues? (1 Corinthians 14:13-14)
In chapter 14, Paul contrasted prophecy with speaking in tongues. He maintained there was nothing wrong with the tongues gift-in its proper place. But in church, prophecy and other intelligible gifts were more valuable (v. 1). The apostle gave his readers his understanding of speaking in tongues, which is that it was speech directed toward God rather than toward people. In the absence of someone to interpret what was said, the tongues remained unintelligible to the listeners. While God comprehended what the persons uttered in their spirit, it remained a mystery to others (v. 2). In contrast, those who prophesied were communicating with the rest of the people in the assembly. The words being spoken built up the listeners spiritually, stimulated them in their faith, and consoled them in their walk with the Savior (v. 3).
Clearly Paul was concerned about the overuse of tongues-speaking at worship services. His readers were zealous about speaking in tongues, but the apostle wanted them to redirect their zeal toward gifts that would edify the church (v. 12). Paul had made it clear to the Corinthians that messages had value for others only when the words could be understood. That’s why he directed tongues-speakers to pray that God would give them the ability to explain the meaning of what they said (v. 13). The ability to interpret tongues is, in itself, a spiritual gift (see 12:10). So, if believers had both gifts, they could speak in tongues and then interpret what had been said for the edification of others.
2.Why did Paul say about singing in the spirit with understanding? (1 Corinthians 14:15-17)
In the view of the KJV translators, the spirit Paul speaks of here is the human spirit, as indicated by its lack of being capitalized: spirit, not Spirit. This is the correct translation, and it allows us to understand this verse better. Paul is not in favor of mindless activity—speaking that is not understood by the hearers. He wants singing that is spiritual and ‘with the understanding also.’ (Evidently, some worshipers would offer spontaneous hymns of praise to God, with lyrics in an unknown language.) Paul wants the mind to be aware of what the mouth is saying. Otherwise when you are praising God in the spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? (v. 16). Those listening were therefore left without spiritual edification and were nothing more than observers (v. 17).
What Do You Think?
Seven times in this section (vs. 13-20), Paul used the word understanding. What steps can the church take to make the gospel more understanding to an uncomprehending world?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Spiritual jargon | Biblical terms that culture misdefines | Cultural awareness | Other
Worship that is Comprehensible: 1 Corinthians 14:18-26
3. Even though Paul spoke in tongues, what did he say he preferred, and why did he prefer this? (1 Corinthians 14:18, 19)
Paul continues by stating a fact that some may find surprising: I speak with tongues more than ye all. There is no one more invested in speaking in tongues than the apostle himself, the very one who had planted the church in Corinth.
Despite his own proficiency in the tongues area, Paul points the readers in a different direction. He notes that to speak an unknown tongue is not to speak with understanding. Five words that are understood are to be preferred over ten thousand words that are without meaning to the hearers. Paul’s goal in the speaking of clearly understood words is the teaching of others. The unknown words of tongues may be impressive and exciting, but they do not benefit others since such words convey no useful content.
4. What didPaul tell the Corinthian believers about being mature in thinking? (1 Corinthians 14:20, 21)
Paul adds to his point by introducing a difference between children and adults (v. 20). It is OK to have a childlike innocence when it comes to malice (evil), but it is not OK to be childish regarding the matter at hand. It was time the Corinthians started thinking like adults on this subject. In verse 21, Paul cited a shortened version of Isaiah 28:11, 12 to help the Corinthians grasp the true intent of tongues (see also Deut. 28:49). Isaiah had prophesied that God would use foreigners, the Assyrians, to try to teach the wayward Israelites a lesson. Based on what Paul said next, his point seems to be this: just as the Assyrians’ foreign speech failed to turn the Israelites to the Lord, so speaking in tongues would fail to help convert unbelievers.
Perhaps some have the idea that speaking in a tongue is an evidence of spiritual maturity, but Paul taught that it is possible to exercise the gift in an unspiritual and immature manner.
What Do You Think?
What has helped you grow most from spiritual childishness to maturity? What can you do to help others in this regard?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Selflessness | Personal holiness | Scripture knowledge | Prayer habits
5.How does Paul differentiate the benefit of tongues from prophecy? (1 Corinthians 14:22-25)
Paul stated that tongues-speaking was a miraculous ‘sign’ (1 Corinthians 14:22) that God used to authenticate His spokespersons to the unsaved (when interpreted 1 Cor. 14:27, 28). In contrast, the Lord primarily intended prophesying for the benefit of Jesus’ followers. The apostle described a situation in which unbelievers and the uninformed visited a Christian worship service. If all the participants were speaking in tongues, the visitors would understand nothing and would think they were seeing madness, like the mania that was a part of some pagan religious rituals commonplace in that day (v. 23). In this case, speaking in tongues would be a sign in a negative sense. It would confirm the inquirers’ spiritual lostness by repelling them from the Christian fellowship. Next, Paul described another situation in which unbelievers and the uninformed visited a worship service while Christians were prophesying (v. 24). In this case, the inquirers would understand the message, be convicted of their sin, and turn to God in repentance and worship (v. 25). So, prophecy would be a sign in a positive sense. It would cause the visitors to recognize the Father’s presence and tum their lives over to the Son.
What Do You Think?
What safeguards can the church adopt to ensure orderly participation when a worship service includes an open time of ‘sharing’?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Before-the-fact policy to prevent problems | Small Groups
After-the-fact intervention to correct ongoing problems
6.What does Paul say is needed in worship service to edify the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Now Paul focused more specifically on the worship practices of the believers in Corinth. He gave many instructions, but his main point in all of them was that orderliness should characterize Christian worship. The corporate gatherings typically included a variety of elements, such as singing, teaching, revelations, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. All these elements of the service were good. However, the apostle’s readers needed a reminder that the aim of whatever they did was to be the spiritual upbuilding of the church (1 Cor. 14:26). ‘For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace’ (1 Corinthians 14:33).
POINTS TO PONDER
The Corinthian church was having special problems with disorders in their public worship (1 Cor. 11:17-23). The reason is not difficult to determine: some were using their spiritual gifts to please themselves and not to help their brethren. The key word was not edification, but exhibition. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul taught that tongues-speaking during a worship service, if uninterpreted, does nothing to, build up the church. The reason is that no one in the congregation can understand what is being said. Therefore, the apostle revealed it was better to proclaim God’s truth in language that everyone can understand.
Paul’s objective was to encourage believers to identify ways to create a group worship experience that is edifying. Yet, in order for this to happen, we must be willing to put the concerns and interests of others first. Sadly, though, many professing Christians unconsciously center their lives on themselves. They judge things as good or bad depending on how these things affect them. Their own needs and desires often come first to them.
Such people attend church for what they can get out of it. They give money and time either out of obligation or for self-glorification rather than the desire to build others up spiritually. Their prayers alternate between complaints over their difficult circumstances and petitions that they might have the gratification of their wants.
Self-centeredness and spirituality, however, are incompatible. Before we can hope to live for the Savior and edify others, we have to put self in proper perspective. That will occur only when we surrender to the lordship of the Son. When Jesus is the focus of our worship and fellowship, His body will be healthy, we will be fruitful as God’s representatives in this world, and we will be one in His Spirit.
Building Up the Church
Paul’s sage advice ‘Let all things be done unto edifying’ (v. 26) can be used in many situations. It challenges us to evaluate our church activities by a simple question: Does it build up the church or tear it down?
Consider how this test applies to your own church and how you relate to it on a personal level. What issues are important to you? music styles? preaching methods? Sunday school options? Do you want changes to suit your own preferences? When does voicing your preferences cross the line from building up the church to tearing it down?
These are hard questions! We move toward the right answers when we realize that the abiding value of 1 Corinthians 14 is not so much doctrinal instruction about the gift of speaking in tongues but about how we understand the priority of edification in the church.
Heavenly Father, may we love the church as much as You do. May we resist selfishness as we seek to build up others within our congregation. May You bless our church as You give it unity and a clarity of purpose. In the name of Jesus, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Always ask, ‘Does it edify?’