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Desiring Spiritual Gifts to Build Christ's Church- I Corinthians 14:1-19

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: Building the Body Through Our Gifts

In a book entitled Your Father Loves You J.I. Packer wrote these insightful words about spiritual gifts. He said:

"We are right to say that spiritual gifts come from the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11). However, we go on to think of them in terms either of giftedness (human ability to do things skillfully and well) or of supernatural novelty (power to speak in tongues, to heal, to receive messages straight from God to give to others, or whatever). We have not formed the habit of defining gifts in terms of Christ, the head of the body, and his present work from heaven in our midst. In this we are unscriptural.

Paul makes it clear that spiritual gifts are given in Christ; they are enrichments from Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 assumes the Christ-oriented perspective that 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 established. It is vital that we should see this, or we shall be confusing natural with spiritual gifts to the end of our days.

Nowhere does Paul or any other New Testament writer define a spiritual gift to us. But Paul's assertion that the use of gifts edifies (1 Cor. 14:3-5, 12, 17,26; Eph. 4:12), shows what his idea of gift was.

For Paul it is only through Christ, in Christ, and by learning of and responding to Christ, that anyone is ever edified. So spiritual gifts must be defined in terms of Christ as actualized powers of expressing, celebrating, displaying, and thus communicating Christ in one way or another, either by word or deed."

In I Corinthians 14, Paul is continuing his discussion of Spiritual gifts which he began in chapter 12. In it he began to answer the question imposed to him by the church at Corinth on this subject.

From the context, believers in Corinth seem to have been asking why some Christians were given spiritual gifts while others seemed not to be "spiritual ones." It's possible that some in Corinth had been demonstrating obvious supernatural power through speaking in tongues, for instance, while others lacked this ability."

From what we read here in chapter 14, it becomes apparent that there is some division going on amongst the Corinthians as well because of jealousy and envy that was taking place in the use and abuse of certain of these gifts. Some thought that they were better than others because they possessed certain gifts.

Paul's aim, in chapters 12-14, is to show that the believers have it all wrong in their reasoning behind this question. The truth is that all Christians are 'gifted ones.' We all have been given the same Holy Spirit who has gifted each of us in some way.

We just got finished studying, in chapter 13, that all spiritual gifts are worthless unless they are done out of love. The truth is they weren't given to us in order to be used for selfish purposes. The primary purpose for which all of them are given is to build up the Church, the Body of Christ. The New Testament reminds us of this as a part of every discussion of these Spiritual gifts.

That is why Paul begins chapter 14 with a recap of what he said in 13 about agape love. He says in verse 1 to:

"Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts..."

This agape love that Paul keeps talking about here, and which is used in other parts of the Bible, refers to a pure, willful, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another’s highest good. God intends for us to use our gifts, given by Him, for the highest good of our fellow believers in Christ, and for the Body of Christ generally to which we are each a member.

Paul, in chapter 14, then contrasts 2 of the Spiritual gifts specifically which were being utilized in the church at Corinth because one or both of them was probably being misused at the time of this writing. He talks about the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues. I like what has to say about this section of Scripture. It tells us:

From the context, we might imagine that many people were speaking in tongues at once with nobody interpreting what was said. Paul shows that the exercise of the gift of prophecy in the church is superior to the use of the gift of tongues if nobody can interpret. Apparently, tongues were being used mostly for praying aloud to God in unknown languages. Paul agrees that this may be encouraging to the one who prays, but it is useless in the church service. If nobody can understand what is being said, the church is not being built up (1 Corinthians 14:1–17).

The gift of prophecy, on the other hand, involved revelation from God to an individual for the purpose of communicating that message to the church. When that gift was exercised, everyone in the room benefited from it (1 Corinthians 14:18–19).

Before we get further into this passage, it might be good to look more into what the gifts of prophecy and tongues actually are.

I. Defining the Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues

First of all, the Greek word translated “prophesying” or “prophecy” properly means to “speak forth” or declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, or to make known in any way the truth of God which is designed to influence people. What most people don't realize and get stuck on is the fact that foretelling the future may have been a part of some prophet's ministries historically but wasn't their primary calling. The gift of prophet, in Scripture, was foremost the gift of forth telling or proclaiming truth rather than foretelling or predicting the future.

In that sense, the pastor or teacher who proclaims the word of God is one who prophesies. Because he is speaking forth the counsel of God to others.

The gift of prophesy, in the sense of receiving new revelations from the Lord, ceased with the completion of the New Testament Canon. Jude called the completed revelation "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" in Jude 3. There are no new revelations that will come forth. God's Word is complete, and we can rely on it for our faith and practice.

This gift of prophecy today is an ability akin to teaching in that it takes the already completed revelation of Scripture and declares that truth to others. If what someone says deliberately goes against that which is Scriptural or adds to the Bible teaching in any way, that person may be considered a false prophet.

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This gift, according to Paul in I Corinthians 13 will be done away with when 'that which is perfect' has come when we shall see face to face and will fully know even as we are fully known (I Corinthians 13:11-13). This seems to be best understood as the eternal state, for this description doesn't appear to describe adequately the time in which we are now living.

The spiritual gift of tongues, on the other hand, is more accurately called the gift of languages. The Greek word for tongues is glossa, which literally means “tongue.” When it is used in the New Testament addressing the subject of spiritual gifts it carries the contextual meaning of “languages.”

It is not talking about some unknown 'heavenly or angelic language' as some would say. Paul even quotes from Isaiah 11:12 later in 1 Corinthians 14:21, as an example of the Lord saying that he will speak to the Jews in an unknown language, and they will not listen. This seems to be a gift of being able to speak a language without having to formally learn. It was one of the miraculous sign gifts given to authenticate the message of the apostles before the completion of the canon of Scripture. And it was given as a sign to unbelieving Israel specifically. The apostle says in I Corinthians 13 that this gift will cease (13:8). Since Israel as a nation has fallen today and Scripture has been completed, tongues is no longer necessary. And up until the early 20th century, most of the Church agreed that they are no longer in use today. That is until the rise of the modern-day Pentecostal movement.

Now let us briefly look at I Corinthians 14:1-19 and see what Paul says to these believers about how they should see spiritual gifts, and how those gifts are to edify the church.

Paul spends his time comparing and contrasting the gifts of prophecy and tongues to show how prophecy must be emphasized in a worship service. There are at least 2 reasons for this which are found in the first 19 verses of this chapter.

II. Tongues Are Mysterious/Prophecy Edifies the Church (1-5)

The apostle, in the first 5 verses points out the first reason that one should desire prophesy over tongues. The answer is because tongues, or speaking in foreign languages, are mysterious, whereas prophesy, by its very design, edifies, exhorts and even comforts those who hear it.

The gift of tongues, as done at Corinth was talking to God and may have comforted the person who spoke it, but no one else understood what he was saying. The only way that tongues could possibly have edified anyone else was if there were anyone there, in the service, to interpret what this person was saying.

Thus, God's people should have been seeking the gift of prophecy over that of tongues.

III. Tongues Are Only Profitable When Used with Other Gifts. (6-19)

Paul goes further, in verses 6-19 by explaining the second major reason that prophecy is preferable to tongues. It is the fact that speaking in tongues is only profitable when used with other gifts. Merely saying unknown words or sentences are not enough, no matter how good you are at speaking them. You have to communicate something using other gifts that have been given by God. Paul tells us:

"But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? (6).

The apostle compares the act of merely speaking without any reason to a lifeless thing like a flute or a harp, when they make a sound. Unless they make a distinction in various notes, they are not making music but just noise. I think of an orchestra for example. But instead of them playing a great piece of music, rather each person is playing random notes without thinking of how those notes fit with the other instrument's notes around them. That would be extremely annoying, and they wouldn't be accomplishing anything. It would be chaos. And a trumpet that doesn't sound a clear advance into battle, but something entirely different, would confuse those who are listening for the advance signal. Maybe some would move forward, while others stayed behind. Again chaos.

It is the same thing with those who are merely speaking in other tongues to impress others with their ability or to just speak to God. Without an interpreter it is no better than a foreigner speaking to them. No one would know what they were saying or doing. And it would cause chaos in the church. It definitely wouldn't build up anyone.

Paul concludes this section by saying that since these Corinthians were so zealous for Spiritual gifts, let that zealous attitude be ultimately for the edification of the church (12). So, if they speak in tongues they should also pray for the gift of interpretation, so that others can understand and be built up. Here is how he puts it:

"Therefore, let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." (13-19)


As we study this passage, it becomes apparent that the church of the 21st century can learn a lot about what it means to come together as members of the Body of Christ. And many who come to worship services today have the wrong idea about why they should be there and the part that they play in every service that they attend. We are not there to be blessed by the music or the message. We aren't there in order to "get something out of it," although, if properly done, we probably will be blessed by the service. The truth is that we shouldn't be there for self at all. It should be to worship God, first of all. He is the audience receiving our worship. And secondly, we are there to do our part by using our gifts, to build up each other and help one another grow to be all that Christ would have us to be. We must actively seek to edify one another and not ourselves.

Further, when reading this passage, we should not simply be thinking about the two examples of spiritual gifts that Paul addressed of prophecy and tongues. And we shouldn't merely use this passage to prove our theology or beliefs regarding whether we think that tongues and prophecy are gifts that are still in existence today or not. Chances are, many of the times that this passage is mentioned, that is what the preacher or teacher is using it to prove. What we must do is remember that all of the spiritual gifts, including the ones that you and I have been given, can be used properly and make a big impact. Or they can be misused and abused like the gift of tongues was in Corinth. If the way we use our spiritual gift is not adding to the edification of the church but is, instead causing disorder and chaos, then we need to either change the way we use it or we need to not use it at all.

We each have to start taking Church seriously and must begin by taking responsibility for our part in using the gifts that the Lord has given us so that Christ's Body will be as effective as it can be in this world for God's glory.

Like the parts of the human body have their own unique function, so each of us has a part that we play. It is my prayer that God will raise up, in the church in which each of us attends, people who are zealous for the Lord, zealous for His Church and will love both of them enough to want to see what God can do with a congregation that is totally devoted to Him, and to His people. I hope that the Lord will use us to grow His Church on this earth by helping us to properly use the gifts and abilities that He has given to us by His Spirit who indwells us. And may the He ultimately be pleased with our efforts for Him!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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