Little is the time I spend these days trying to come up with the definitive position on whether or not the spiritual gift of tongues is for today. But there was a time when I was on the verge of obsession as I sought to wrestle this topic of some controversy to the ground. Those days come to mind as I read the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Seems back then, as I wrestled with the place of sign gifts in the church, I found myself more often than not in chapter 13 trying to figure out what “the perfect” was that would cause “the partial” to pass away (1Cor. 13:10). But I really should have been spending more time in chapter 14 . . . focusing less on the practices of our gathering and more on the purpose of our gathering.
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. . . . What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1Corinthians 14:12, 26 ESV)
In chapter 14, Paul’s breaks down the relative merits of one who speaks in a tongue vs. one who prophesies . . . of one who speaks in an unintelligible language (v.9) and one who declares “some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching” (v.6) . . . of one who utters “an indistinct sound” (v.8) with their spirit for their own benefit (v.4) and one who clearly speaks, if only “five words,” with their mind “in order to instruct others” (v.19).
And the “rhythm section” of this mini opus . . . the underlying back beat of Paul’s argument, is that the purpose of our gathering is for edification . . . the building up of each other.
If repetition is the Scriptures megaphone . . . if recurrence is the Spirit’s way of saying, “Listen up!” . . . then, if there’s anything definitive I take away from my reading today, it’s that the church is to come together for building up. Six times Paul says that when we come together it should be for edification . . . for the building upon of a foundation . . . for promoting “another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, and holiness” (from my online Greek dictionary).
The “what’s” of our church practices are less important than the “why’s.” Let all things be done for building up.
Everything we do, when we come together as the family of God, should be run through this filter. How easy it is to program for program sake . . . to put things in place to satisfy individual preferences . . . rather than purposefully practice that which our local gatherings of believers are uniquely equipped for so that our local gatherings might result in believers maturing in their most holy faith . . . so that our church bodies might grow up into our exalted Head (Eph. 4:15).
And we aspire to such not so we can be like those professional body builders who develop muscle for the sole purpose of parading themselves. But we desire “muscle” so that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph. 3:10) . . . we desire built up bodies so that a lost world might be drawn to a loving Savior.
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1Corinthians 14:24-25 ESV)
Tongues or no tongues? I don’t think that’s really the question. But is God really among you? Isn’t that the desire for our gathering? I’m thinkin’ . . .
Might our churches be body builders in all we do together . . . by His grace . . . for His glory!