May 28, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.”—1 Corinthians 14:1–12 (NIV)
To understand Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Corinth, we need to grasp what was taking place in the Church. This community of believers was becoming dysfunctional, with church members making empty noise to outperform others in their display of the gifts. During their time of worship, individuals would speak over one another with tongues or a prophetic word merely to boast in their spirituality. Love was absent, and pride and selfishness were rampant. Earlier in his letter, Paul used the image of a temple being built up. Concerning spiritual gifts, Paul’s desire is for the Corinthian Church to be built up into a temple through the correct understanding and practice of spiritual gifts.
Paul opens this section echoing his greatest message to this community: pursue love. Paul’s desire for the believers in Corinth, and for us today, is that the use of spiritual gifts would be a demonstration of our love for God and one another. Paul corrects them by showing why the gifts of tongues and prophecy should be used at all. To speak in tongues is to pray and worship, to express the ultimate form of love and affection in mystery to God, whereas to prophecy is to express the words of God to an individual or group. Therefore, love should be the very foundation from where these gifts derive. The aim of the gift is not to elevate ourselves, but God!
Paul doesn’t say believers should stop speaking in tongues and prophesying, but rather he instructs them in how to use the gifts appropriately. The gift of tongues, he writes, is a gift in which the person who speaks them is being built up through expressing the mysteries of God. The gift of tongues then is of no benefit to a body of believers unless there is interpretation—unless the mysteries of the Spirit are made known and understood by other believers. The gift of prophecy has a greater corporate benefit simply because those hearing it can understand what is being said. To sum it up, the gifts are to be asked for and exercised by believers in order to grow and strengthen the Church.
And this is the secret to seeking and expressing these gifts: When love is present, tongues will express one’s love for God or be interpreted out of love for those who hear it. Likewise, prophetic words will be spoken to reflect the giver Himself. For a community that was misusing the Holy’s Spirit’s gifts and turning their gathering into a showdown of spiritual superiority, the antidote was a return to love, to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3–4 NIV). That is how we as the Church should also pursue the gifts—in love.
Pause: Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit for spiritual gifts? What has been your reason for asking or for not asking?
Practice: How can you put love at the center of your service to God and others?
Pray: Father, thank You for choosing to use me as a vehicle to advance Your kingdom here on Earth. I am humbled and amazed that You could use me in the power of Your Holy Spirit to reveal more of who You are to others. Holy Spirit, I ask for Your gifts and that I would use them humbly and lovingly to build up Your Church! Amen.
Gabriella Bemis serves as a volunteer for Calvary’s communications and worship teams. She holds an M.A. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about integrating her knowledge of human behavior with the truth of God’s word. When she is not writing resources or singing at church, Gabi loves to paint, cook, and enjoy time outdoors with her family and friends.