About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapters 14

ch. 14:1- 26     ch. 14:27-39

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Gifts Of Prophecy And Tongues (ch. 14:1 - 26)


There is only one chapter in the entire Bible that tells us how to conduct a gathering of the saints in a meeting, and this is the chapter.  It's sad to say, but most churches don't follow Paul's instructions here at all.  Our modern day church service looks nothing like you will see in this chapter. We are way too spectator orientated, what Paul says in this chapter is participatory.  He wants everyone involved because that is the nature of a body, and we are the Body of Christ.      


Paul connects his previous thoughts by telling the Corinthians to “follow the way of love and to eagerly desire spiritual gifts”.  These words clearly say that love is a way.  Love is not a gift, but “a way” in which we should express our gifts.  While in “this way of love”, we should “eagerly desire spiritual gifts”.  It is not wrong to desire the gifts of the Spirit.


When I was young and first entering into the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s I was told by a church leader in our denomination that I was not to seek after the gifts of the Spirit.  I should in fact seek after the giver of the gifts.  That sounds nice but it is not Scriptural.  It is obvious that we are to seek after Jesus.  There is no controversy over that.  We can also seek after the gifts as we seek after Jesus.  Paul tells us to do just that in this verse.


Paul goes on to say that the gift that we should be seeking most is the gift of prophecy.  Prophecy is in its simplest definition “is speaking forth the Word of the Lord”.  Charismatics sometimes limit prophecy to a special message prefixed by the words “thus says the Lord”.  But inspired preaching can also be called prophecy.  As a matter of fact, any words spoken about Jesus sis somewhat prophetic if led by the Holy Spirit. 


In verse 2 Paul says that one who “speaks in tongues does not speak to men but God”.  Prophecy on the other hand is God speaking to men through men.  Note that tongues is man speaking to God.  It is interesting to note that nearly every tongue that is interpreted in a Pentecostal or Charismatic meeting is God speaking to man through man.  If this is an accurate interpretation of the tongue, which is supposed to be man speaking to God, why is the interpretation God speaking to man.  Should not the interpretation sound like a prayer to God instead of a prophecy to the church.  I heard one teacher say that most of our interpretations are really prophecies.  Whether this is true or not, I am not sure.  It is just something interesting to note.


In verse 2 Paul says that when someone speaks in tongues, he is “uttering mysteries with his spirit”.  No one can understand what the person is saying when speaking in tongues so it doesn’t benefit the church.  But the one who does speak in tongues “is being edified”.  He is being lifted up in his own spirit because of the gift he is using. For this reason Paul suggests that in a church gathering we prophesy so everyone can benefit.


In verse 5 Paul says that he would “like everyone to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy”.  Once again prophecy is more beneficial to those who are listening.   He even goes as far to say that the one who prophesies “is greater” than the one who speaks in tongues.  I don’t think that we should reduce the importance of tongues from reading this verse as some have done.  Tongues has its place, and so does prophecy.  All the gifts have their proper place and should be used accordingly.  A gift used in its proper place is a greater gift than one used out of place.


Paul continues this thought by saying that if he came to them speaking in tongues, that would not benefit them, unless he came with a “revelation, knowledge, a prophecy, or a word of instruction”.  These would be understandable to the listener and therefore instructive and useful.


Paul uses an analogy of musical instruments.  Unless there is a distinction in the note, no one would be able to hear or understand what melody is being played.  I often think of a church sound person when I read this verse.  That is, a person who operates a music sound system in a church. From a musicians standpoint, our instruments need to be heard, or how can those listening benefit.  If the sound is not balanced and some instruments cannot be heard, then it is not worth the effort to play the instrument.  People should be able to clearly hear the particular notes and sounds being played.  This is what Paul is saying, yet he is relating it to prophecy and tongues.  If we can’t hear, or understand the words, it makes no sense to the listener.  This is also important in our larger churches where prophecies are spoken from the congregation.  If someone speaks out a prophecy from their seats and no one can hear him or her, then the words spoken are in vain.  Those who speak forth the Word of the Lord should learn to speak loud enough for all to hear and benefit.  Verse 9 says, “unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue how will anyone know what you are saying”.  This confirms what I have just said.  If someone can't hear you because you are not speaking loud enough, your words are not intelligible. 


In verse 10 Paul says that there are all sorts of languages in the world.  Today there are roughly 7000 different languages in the world.  Paul says “that none of them are without meaning”.  Yet even though all these languages have meaning, if we cannot understand them, Paul says that we are foreigners to each other.  He concludes in verse 13 by saying, “since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church”. 


Therefore, as a result of all that Paul has said so far, if someone speaks in tongues in a meeting, “he should pray for the interpretation. 


Also in verse 13 Paul introduces a new word in the discussion on tongues.  To date he has been using the phrase “speaking in tongues”.  Now he uses the phrase ”praying in tongues”.  He says in verse 14, “for if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays”.  Therefore I conclude, as does others, that there is a difference between “speaking in tongues” and “praying in tongues”.  Speaking in tongues is speaking forth so all the church hears.  Praying in tongues is praying.  The whole church doesn’t necessarily have to hear what you are praying.  It is a prayer directed from you to God.  As Paul says, “it is your spirit praying”.  Your mind has no understanding what you are praying. This is where Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians derive the term “prayer language”.


Paul continues by saying that he will both sing and pray with both his spirit and with his mind.  He will pray in tongues, and he will pray with his understanding. He will do both.  We should therefore encourage those who are able to pray in tongues.  We should make room for praying and singing in tongues in our meetings as a form of worship to the Lord.  The first time I ever heard a group sing in tongues collectively was amazing.  From that point on I knew I wanted to be able to sing and pray in tongues, which I do. 


In verse 18 Paul thanks God that he prays in tongues more than all of them.  This must mean that Paul spoke and prayed in tongues a lot.  If this is the case, then we should not put down the gift of tongues as a second class gift.  “Yet in the church”, Paul says, “ I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" that others can't understand.                     


Paul appeals to the Corinthian's intellect in verse 20 by telling them to stop thinking like children.  They need to start thinking like adults in the way they conduct their gatherings.  Paul quotes from Isa. 28:11 and 12 to back up his point.  In these verses God says that he would speak to His people through foreigners who did not speak their language.  God would use outsiders to convince His own people of His truth.  As a result of this Paul says in verse 22 that “tongues is a sign for unbelievers”. This adds another dimension to our discussion on tongues.  We have tongues as a prayer language where the tongue edifies the person praying. We have tongues as a way of edifying the church when there is an interpretation, and now we have tongues as a sign to the unbeliever.  An example of this would be in Acts 2 where the unbelievers heard the Word of the Lord spoken in their own language.  So there are at least three different aspects to tongues.  The last is the one most accepted in non-Pentecostal  circles.


Paul also says that prophecy is for the believer.  This is  because prophecy is God speaking to His people, and if you are not part of His people, then obviously prophecy is not directed to you.


Paul keeps on the topic of tongues not being beneficial if there is no interpretation.  He says that if an unbeliever, or one who has little understanding in these things comes in and hears tongues alone, he will think you “are out of your mind”.  This is not the case with prophecy because an unbeliever, or one with little understanding could at least understand your words. 


It is interesting to note that just a few sentences back Paul said that prophecy is for the believer, yet now in verse 24 and 25 he says that if an unbeliever hears prophecy, ”the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.  So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, God is really among you”.  This is one important reason why we should allow the gifts of the Spirit in our gathering, so that unbelievers will be convicted by the presence of God and fall and worship Him.  Remember, Paul is teaching these people how to conduct their meetings.  We have a lot to learn when it comes to these matters.  So now we learn that prophecy is for both the believer and unbeliever, depending on the circumstances.


Paul says that where prophecy is, unbelievers will see the power of God and come to Jesus.  Isn’t this what we want in our gatherings today?


Orderly Worship (ch. 14:26 - 39)


Paul opens this section by saying,  “what shall we say brothers”.  He is including his readers in the comments that he is about to say.  He expects them to agree with him concerning the conclusions and instructions that he is about to pass on to them.


He says that when everyone comes together as a church some “will have a hymn, a word of encouragement, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.”  The implication here is that everyone brings something to the gathering for the common good of everyone present.  Church meetings are not a spectator event but a participation event.  Our church meetings should be structured to allow everyone to participate. 


Paul continues his theme about tongues and how this gift should be used in the church.  He says that two or three can speak in tongues, but someone must be there to interpret the tongues.  I am not sure that Paul would stop at three people speaking in tongues.  His point by using these numbers is “orderliness”.  There must be sufficient time for everyone’s gifts to be used.


In verse 28 Paul says “that if there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church, and speak to himself and God”.  To me, this would suggest that before the person speaking in tongues actually speaks out, he should know if there is one there with the gift of interpretation.  If not, then he should speak to himself and God.  This is a little different than what normally happens in a Pentecostal or Charismatic church today.  Most of the time a person speaks out in tongues, hoping and praying that someone will interpret. 


On the other hand, Paul says that the one speaking in tongues should sit down, that is after he begins to speak, if there is not anyone present who can interpret the tongues.  Therefore, in this case, the person does get up to speak in tongues, and maybe doesn't know if there is someone in the gathering that can interpret what he says.  


If there is no interpreter, then the person should speak to himself and God.  This suggests that one can speak in tongues, or pray in tongues as previously stated quietly to the Lord as a prayer.  There is nothing wrong with people quietly praying in tongues in a worship service.


In verse 29 Paul says that “two or three prophets should speak and the others should weigh carefully what he said”.  Once again Paul uses the numbers two or three.  Paul specifically calls these people prophets.  He does not say that two or three people should prophesy.  He is speaking about the “gifts of Christ” as  seen in Eph. 4:11.  The ministry of a prophet is one of these gifts of Christ.  One important thing to note here is that the rest of the people should “weigh carefully” what is said.  What is said should line up with good Biblical teaching.  All prophecy should be judged and if something is said that is clearly wrong, there should be an immediate response to what was said.  I've seldom seen an immediate response to a false prophecy.  That shouldn't be.  Truth should be more important than the fear of hurting someone's feelings.   


Paul says an interesting thing in the next verse.  He says that while someone is speaking, if someone gets a revelation from the Lord, then the speaker should stop what he is saying, sit down, and let the person with the revelation speak.  Now the person who is already speaking may feel what he has to say is from the Lord, and should not have to stop until he is finished.  But Paul doesn’t say that.  He says that this person should wrap up what he is saying and sit down.


Why does Paul say such a thing.  In verse 32 he says “that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets”.  This means that our spirit is subject to us.  We have control over our own spirit.  Even though our spirit may be inspired to say something that the Lord has showed to us, it is still subject to our understanding of what is orderly.  Even though we may have to cut our speaking short, we can do that, even though it is inspired.  So we control the orderliness of our gatherings, even though what we are doing is inspired by the Holy Spirit.


Back a couple of verses Paul said, “let the prophets speak…”.  Now in verse 31 he says that “you may all prophesy in turn…”.  One by one, in an orderly fashion, everyone who has a prophecy can speak forth the Word of the Lord as he feels led.    


Paul's remarks in verses 34 and 35 have been debated over for centuries.  They can be pretty controversial, especially from a woman's point of view.  Paul says that women should remain silent in the congregation of the saints.  They shouldn't speak.  If they have a question they should ask their own husband at home.  He then says that it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in the congregation of the saints.  How should we view this?  Is there a cultural element to Paul's thinking?  If there is a cultural element, how far do we take culture in attempting to interpret the Bible?  What is culture and what is the Word of the Lord?  Understanding culture is important, but, saying something is cultural so we don't have to follow the instructions is tricky and can lead to wrong thinking.


There is a bit of history that is important for us to understand here.  In the Roman Greek world that Paul was speaking to, women were beginning to have more independence than in days past.  You may remember Lydia in the book of Acts.  She was a business woman.  That being said, in general terms men were more educated than women.  Women would often have to ask their husbands questions to gain an understanding about things.  This plays a part in what Paul is saying here in verses 34 and 35. 


Back in verse 31 Paul said that "you can all prophesy".  Does all mean all men or all in attendance?  I personally believe all means all in attendance, so, in my thinking, women were permitted to prophesy, which, they were permitted to speak.  The obvious question arises then, "Why does Paul tell women not to speak here in verses 34 and 35?  I think the context and the above history might give us the answer. 


In verse 33 Paul says that a gathering of the saints must be performed in an orderly fashion.  Simply put, people shouldn't be talking over each other.  Each should have a turn to speak.  No one should manipulate the conversation.  If women were less educated than men, which are the historical fact, then, it appears that women were asking their husbands and maybe other men questions to help understand what was being said or prophesied.  These questions would have interrupted the flow of the gathering and maybe led to some confusion which would take away the orderly format to the gathering.  Therefore, Paul said that women should ask their own husbands at home the questions they were asking in the meeting.  When Paul was saying women could not speak in the meeting, I believe he was saying women could not, should not, ask these questions in the meetings.  However, if they had a prophetic word, then they were allowed to speak.  Paul says that this is how all the churches handle these matters. 


It is interesting that Paul uses the Law of Moses as a defense to what he is saying; especially when Paul believes the Law's significance has been greatly decreased when it comes to matter of faith, doctrine, and church practice.  What I believe Paul might have had in mind when he used the Law to defend his point is that he was not using the Law to defend the point that women must be silent in a meeting.  He was using the Law to defend his statement that wives should be in submission to their own husbands.  Of course, the aspect of the Law was not done away with because it reflects God's intent at creation as seen in the Genesis account.


To sum this up, what Paul teaches about women and how they relate to matters of salvation and church was a huge departure from the Roman Greek culture in which he lived.  Women today might put Paul down because they think he was anti-women, but that's not true.  He was not anti-women.  He was ahead of his time when it came to women.  He taught things about women that men of his day would cringe at.  I would also go as far to say that Paul's teaching about women has formed the basis for our western thinking about women today, that is, other than the ultra-feminist movement.  I believe Paul would allow women to speak the Word of the Lord in a gathering of the saints.  We do know there were women prophetesses.  See Acts 21:9.  I doubt if these women just prophesied outside the context of a meeting.  Paul simply did not want women, and I would believe the same would apply to men, to interrupt the flow of a meeting with questions.                      


It is not just a suggestion for them to consider.  He asked in verse 36, “Did the Word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached”?  The answer Is surely “no”.  The  Corinthians are not the only Christians that have received the Word of God.  They do not have all of the answers.  Paul strongly believes what he is saying is God’s command to the churches.


If the Corinthians “ignore” these commands then they in turn should be ignored, says Paul.  This is a strong exhortation by Paul to these people to get their meetings on the right track.


The important thing for us here is that if these words are in fact the words of the Lord, then like the Corinthians, we should be following what Paul teaches here, but we don't.  How then can we expect the moving of the Holy Spirit in our meetings when we don't follow His teaching. 


Paul closes the chapter by saying, “be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”.  Paul definitely encourages the use of the gifts of the Spirit, especially tongues and prophecy as seen in this verse.  The only qualification he has is that things should be done in a “fitting and orderly way”.  That only makes sense. 


One thing I've noticed over the years is that many Evangelicals have taken this verse to an extreme and have been so orderly that the moving of the Holy Spirit can't take place.  There is no place for spontaneity.  I don't believe this is what Paul is speaking about here.  I think Paul is teaching orderly spontaneity.



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