December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“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.”—1 Corinthians 14:13–19 (NKJV)
If you’ve been part of our journey through Paul’s first letter to the Church of Corinth, you’ve seen that he specifically wrote to them for the purpose of correcting a series of spiritual problems that had taken root there. And if you haven’t been part of this journey up until now, well . . . now you know why this epistle was written! And as we come to this part of Paul’s letter, he addresses a problem in the Church that sounds very counterintuitive, yet is very real and damaging: using spiritual gifts in an unspiritual way.
To set the stage, God had blessed this Church with a variety of spiritual gifts; namely, the gift of tongues. However, this particular gift from the Holy Spirit was being exercised in an inappropriate way that was causing a lot of confusion and dysfunction. Something spiritual was being used in an unspiritual way, and Paul brings this issue into the light of God’s wisdom and will to remedy this.
Being a very analytical and logical thinker, Paul walks them through a set of truths that will lead them to an intended outcome. Let’s follow along with his flow of thought.
First, he develops the understanding that the gift of tongues (that is, speaking in an unknown tongue), is a gift that lacks an element of understanding. This doesn’t mean tongues is bad, but it does mean it has limitations. Paul notes that on a personal level, his spirit benefits in a way that his understanding doesn’t when he speaks in tongues. As far as his understanding goes, the gift is “unfruitful” for him. The point he’s making is that the gift of tongues has limitations that other gifts do not.
But this particular problem was something that was public, not personal. So Paul applies the proceeding point to their Church meetings. Evidently, those with the gift of tongues were using this gift in their gatherings without any consideration of those who had no understanding of what was being said. This was creating a confusing and frustrating situation. The gifts of the Spirit are meant to edify the Church (1 Corinthians 14:12), and this misuse was having the exact opposite effect. The Corinthians were being very unspiritual with their spiritual gifting. Paul points all of this out in order to bring them to this conclusion: They need to think of others rather than themselves—to be others-focused and not self-focused. They should prioritize what’s best for everyone in the Church, which is going to be what everyone can understand.
Edifying others ought to be the main consideration when exercising our spiritual gifts. That sounds like a foregone conclusion, but as the Corinthians show, it’s possible to misuse spiritual things. God doesn’t want that. He wants His gifts to be used in a way that builds up and blesses His people. Ultimately, the difference comes down to the attitude behind the exercise. Is it selfish or selfless?
When we keep the welfare of others ahead of our own, our spiritual gifts are put to the best possible use. As we keep our gifts spiritual, we keep the glory on the God who gives them, and we keep their benefits flowing towards those they’re intended to bless.
Pause: What problem does Paul address here?
Practice: Consider a time when you found yourself doing something “spiritual” in an unspiritual way. What were the consequences?
Pray: Father, thank You for entrusting me with Your gifts. Please forgive me for using them in any way You wouldn’t want me to. I ask for a deeper desire to be others-centered and less self-centered, even when it comes to the way I exercise the spiritual gifts You’ve given me. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.