I Corinthians 14 Devotional
by Mark R. Hudson
Paul just completed one of the most sublime essays on love in chapter 13. This is directed to people in the church not to the marriage relationship. Love always takes priority in the teaching of Biblical authors. Paul offered a practical as well as theological approach to love. Love is a verb for Paul, but love originates with God and is expressed to God’s people.
Ministry reflects this hierarchy of love. Ministry that is directed to me is good but ministry that serves others is far better. Paul is not against speaking in tongues but clearly Paul urges us to prophecy since that benefits the entire body.
Most in the Reformed camp, tend to think some spiritual gifts are no longer active, tongues being one of them. Prophecy, closely related to preaching, was important to the early church, but many would question if that gift were still active now. If we mean by prophecy a message containing new revelation, we will claim there is no prophecy after the closing of the canon. However, during the time of the writing of I Corinthians, the church was forming, and these spiritual gifts were necessary.
Notice the many stipulations Paul places on the exercise of these gifts. Paul never says tongues are wrong. Rather He reasons that tongues do not have the same value as prophecy (or many other spiritual gifts) because prophecy is focused on helping others to understand God’s Word and will.
When Paul talks about prophecy, he describes it in the following terms, “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation in v. 3. Then in v. 4, “the one who prophesies builds up the church.” In the next verse, “so that the church may be built up.” Paul says to “strive to excel in building up the church” in v. 12. In v. 17, tongues is of limited value when there is no interpreter, since the listener cannot understand so “the other person in not built up.” Again in v. 26, “Let all things be done for building up.” A slight variation occurs in v. 31, “so that all my learn and all be encouraged.”
For Paul, spiritual gifts are not for self-aggrandizement but for the good of all. Most Christians exercise their spiritual gifts “behind the scenes.” That might be the normal way we serve the church. But some are in front of the church, public, with a microphone, in front of the entire body. The person signing, preaching, praying, etc. is more visible and may appear to be more valuable and important. This misconception was addressed in chapter 12.
If one reads chapter 12 and 13 carefully, slowly, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you won’t focus on yourself. In terms of spiritual gifts, a Christian should be focused on doing good to and for the body. Sadly, we can twist God’s good gifts to direct people’s attention away from Christ to ourselves. This is a terrible distortion of what God intended. The gift Giver is always and everywhere pointing people to Christ. The Holy Spirit is not building the individual who was given the gift. Rather, the Holy Spirit is concerned with the entire body.
Our gifts are given to us but not for us primarily. They are for the good of the weakest person in the church. For the silent groups who are rarely asked for their opinion. For the elderly. For these who feel like they don’t fit in. God the Holy Spirit teaches us in 12:22 that, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” And in 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” These gifts are for the entire body so even though a person may be gifted, that gift is owned, as it were, by the body.
In the last section the phrase that Presbyterians seem to love is 14:30, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” Maybe we like it a little too much. But Paul does seem to advocate for order. He does not want everyone speaking up when they feel like speaking. God brings order out of chaos in the very first few verses of Genesis. He does that now in our lives and in our worship service.
I am interested in the way some believers talk about planning. Some believers feel the Spirit is more active in spontaneity than careful planning or rehearsals. The Holy Spirit is just as active in the preparation of a worship service or planning an event as He is during the actual service or event. Some Christians think the Holy Spirit is more active when a preacher says, “I am setting aside what I prepared for what the Spirit laid on my heart last night” than a pastor who studies all week and preaches a sermon on what the text says. I will take the second option rather than the Saturday night inspiration.
If He is a God of order, why would He not be active during the week. How does an event, a worship service, or a project work together? Is it due to great project management, leadership, or delegation? Rather, does not the Spirit use our abilities but then orchestrate them in ways we could never manage?
Father, thank You for the gifts you give me for the good of others. Help me to be a good steward of Your generous gifting. Guide me in the best use of those gifts being sensitive both to Your Spirit and the needs of others. I pray You would direct my eyes to You and Your glory first and foremost. But, with Your Spirit assisting and directing me, may I also look for ways to build up others. In the name of the most gifted human being yet One who was entirely devoted to Your glory as well as meeting the needs of those around Him. Amen.