Late night last night. Kind of foggy this morning. Difficulty getting the old pump primed. So, went through the archives.
Surprised that I haven’t written anything on 1Corinthians 14 since 2014. This morning it came alive as (I think for the first time) I underlined every use of the word “prophecy” or “prophesies” in orange, the color I use to mark references to the Word of God. Prophesy as in “forth-telling” not “foretelling.” As in declaring divine revelation, not predicting future events. Paul exalts this spiritual gift over tongues because prophecy “builds up the church” (14:3, 4, 5). And we are to “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12). So, how big a deal should the Word of God — divine revelation — be when we gather? Pretty big.
I think 1Corinthians 14 resonates as well this morning because the late night last night was spent at our monthly deacon’s meeting. While we covered off the status of what was going on presently, we talked a lot about future direction and some potentially pretty significant ministry decisions. Our deacons discussed at length “the whats” last night. This morning 1Corinthians 14 grounds that discussion in “the whys.”
Here’s a rerun of my thoughts from 2014.
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 “whats” of our church practices are less important than the “whys.” 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.
By His grace. For His glory.