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RCCG Miracle Land Dundalk
Tuesday, July 11 2017

Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai

Last week in our study of Love - The Universal Spiritual Gift, we learnt the characteristics of love; that it was greater than any spiritual gift because without love, the most glorious gifts are of no account to us, and of no esteem in the sight of God. and finally, that love was eternal.
Today we will be studying Paul’s response to the Corinthian’s misdirected flaunting of the gift of speaking in tongues as we address spiritual gifts and church order.

“Let love be your greatest aim; nevertheless, ask also for the special abilities the Holy Spirit gives, and especially the gift of prophecy, being able to preach the messages of God. But if your gift is that of being able to “speak in tongues,” that is, to speak in languages you haven’t learned, you will be talking to God but not to others, since they won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be a secret. 3 But one who prophesies, preaching the messages of God, is helping others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them. 4 So a person “speaking in tongues” helps himself grow spiritually, but one who prophesies, preaching messages from God, helps the entire church grow in holiness and happiness. 5 I wish you all had the gift of “speaking in tongues,” but even more I wish you were all able to prophesy, preaching God’s messages, for that is a greater and more useful power than to speak in unknown languages—unless, of course, you can tell everyone afterwards what you were saying, so that they can get some good out of it too.” (TLB)

From this verse of scripture, we can deduce that Paul wants the Corinthian church to not that gifts are fit objects of our desire and pursuit, but they are not greater than love; hence we should make that which is of greater value our goal. And so, Paul starts off with what everyone should aim for – love. “Make it your greatest aim” he says and then directs the Corinthian church to seek spiritual gifts and then zeroes in on which spiritual gift to prefer. But see what he means by prophecy; being able to preach the messages of God. He also assigns the reasons of this preference. And it is remarkable here that he only compares prophesying with speaking with tongues. It seems, this was the gift on which the Corinthians principally valued themselves.
Paul’s angle was this: “What cannot be understood can never edify". No advantage can be reaped from the most excellent discourses, if delivered in unintelligible language, such as the audience can neither speak nor understand: but he that prophesies speaks to the advantage of his hearers; they may profit by his gift. So, the best and most eligible gift which best answers the purposes of love and does most good is that which benefits the entire body of Christ such as prophesying, or preaching, and interpreting scripture as opposed to that which can edify ourselves only
This is not a license to despise any gift, but the best gifts are to be preferred. Every gift of God is a favour from God, and may be improved for his glory, and as such is to be valued and thankfully received; but then those are to be most valued that are most useful. In verse 5, Paul infers that greater is the one that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues, unless he interprets, that the church may receive edifying.

"Dear friends, even if I myself should come to you talking in some language you don’t understand, how would that help you? But if I speak plainly what God has revealed to me, and tell you the things I know, and what is going to happen, and the great truths of God’s Word—that is what you need; that is what will help you. 7 Even musical instruments—the flute, for instance, or the harp—are examples of the need for speaking in plain, simple English rather than in unknown languages. For no one will recognize the tune the flute is playing unless each note is sounded clearly. 8 And if the army bugler doesn’t play the right notes, how will the soldiers know that they are being called to battle? 9 In the same way, if you talk to a person in some language he doesn’t understand, how will he know what you mean? You might as well be talking to an empty room. I suppose that there are hundreds of different languages in the world, and all are excellent for those who understand them, 11 but to me they mean nothing. A person talking to me in one of these languages will be a stranger to me and I will be a stranger to him." (TLB)

Obviously, some of the members of the church in Corinth must have flaunted their gift of speaking in tongues due to the emphasis Paul laid on it. He showed them how vain it is to flaunt speaking unknown and unintelligible language is. It was altogether unedifying and unprofitable. He does this by using several illustrations; musical instruments with notes not sounding clearly, the army bugler that calls soldiers onto battle. To talk in an unknown language in a Christian assembly is altogether as vain and to no purpose as for a trumpet to give no certain sound in the field or day of battle.
If one is asked to preach or teach in church and they start to speak in an unknown tongue is to talk gibberish; it is to play the barbarian; it is to confound the audience, instead of instructing them; and for this reason, is utterly vain and unprofitable. 

“Since you are so anxious to have special gifts from the Holy Spirit, ask him for the very best, for those that will be of real help to the whole church. 13 If someone is given the gift of speaking in unknown tongues, he should pray also for the gift of knowing what he has said, so that he can tell people afterwards plainly. 14 For if I pray in a language I don’t understand, my spirit is praying, but I don’t know what I am saying.” (TLB)

Having thus established his point, he goes ahead to advise the church to be zealous for those gifts that were most for the church’s edification this way it will become commendable zeal, be zealous to edify the church, to promote Christian knowledge and practice, and covet those gifts most that will do the best service to men’s souls. But if you are gifted in speaking in tongues, you should beg of God the gift of interpreting it. He then enforces this advice with a proper reason, that, if he prayed in an unknown tongue, his spirit might pray, that is, a spiritual gift might be exercised in prayer, or his own mind might be devoutly engaged, but his understanding would be unfruitful, that is, the sense and meaning of his words would be unfruitful, he would not be understood, nor therefore would others join with him in his devotions. It should be the concern of such as pray, preach or sing in public to do so intelligibly, not in a foreign language, nor in a language that, if it be not foreign, is above the level of his/her audience. Language that is most obvious and easy to be understood is the most proper for public devotion and other religious exercises.


“Well, then, what shall I do? I will do both. I will pray in unknown tongues and also in ordinary language that everyone understands. I will sing in unknown tongues and also in ordinary language so that I can understand the praise I am giving; 16 for if you praise and thank God with the spirit alone, speaking in another language, how can those who don’t understand you be praising God along with you? How can they join you in giving thanks when they don’t know what you are saying? 17 You will be giving thanks very nicely, no doubt, but the other people present won’t be helped. 18 I thank God that I “speak in tongues” privately more than any of the rest of you. 19 But in public worship I would much rather speak five words that people can understand and be helped by than ten thousand words while “speaking in tongues” in an unknown language.” (TLB)

Paul once again creates balance in his letter! He does not forbid their praying or singing as led by the Spirit, or when they were inspired for this purpose, or had such a spiritual gift communicated to them; but he would have them perform both so as to be understood by others, that others might join with them. He enforces the argument with the following reason; it fosters agreement and participation in prayers, thanksgivings, and worship.
How would someone say “Amen” to prayers in an unknown tongue? How should they declare their consent and concurrence?
The intention of public devotions will be destroyed if they are performed in an unknown tongue. Although the person may pray well, and give thanks well, but not in that time and place, because others are not, and cannot be edified. Paul uses his own example, to make the greater impression; that he did not come behind any of them in this spiritual gift (so they will not think that it is because he didn’t have the gift he held such convictions). He spoke more language than they all. Yet, he’d rather speak five words that people can understand and be helped by than ten thousand words while “speaking in tongues” in an unknown language.”

Parts of this study was culled from Mathew Henry's commentary on 1 Cor. 14

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