Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Observation: Paul addresses the value and purpose of spiritual gifts -- to build up others. He focuses on two gifts in this passage – prophecy and speaking in tongues. The early believers placed a high value on the ability to speak in tongues, but Paul urges them to see the value of prophecy, a gift that can strengthen and encourage others (since the language of tongues often can’t be understood by other believers without additional interpretation). He finishes by offering some guidelines for when people gather together, encouraging them to do everything in an orderly fashion that’s pleasing to God.
Application: Let’s all imagine this scene together. You’re not quite sure what the heck you believe about God, the Bible, religion, etc., but for some reason, you wake up and decide to go to church. Maybe a friend told you about this great group of people she’s been hanging out with and convinced you to come along, maybe you’re at a low point in your life and you’re looking for something (anything!) to give you hope again – whatever the reason, you find yourself outside a church. You walk up to the doors, completely unsure what to expect. A thousand questions pepper your thoughts: Am I dressed correctly? What’s going to happen when I walk in? Will people be friendly or cold – or worse, too friendly? Will anything weird happen? What if I mess something up? WHY AM I DOING THIS?
Something finally nudges you in the doors – maybe it’s because someone is waiting impatiently behind you or maybe it’s the Holy Spirit at work or maybe you just really have to pee and can’t wait any longer. (I’m pregnant right now. This one is my life.) You walk in.
And your greatest fears are realized. There are people everywhere. No one’s there to greet you or tell you where to go. A whole bunch of people are speaking in a language you don’t understand. Other people seem to speak some foreign-sounding stuff over you when you walk in. No one seems to be doing the same thing. It’s loud and chaotic and, quite honestly, very strange. Not exactly what you had in mind when you decided to give church a try for today.
This scene is exactly what Paul was trying to address in chapter 14.
After speaking about spiritual gifts just two chapters before, Paul turns his attention to how these spiritual gifts should be used.
“Let love be your highest goal!” (verse 1)
Spiritual gifts were given to us as a way to show love, to build up the whole church, a tool to be used to strengthen and encourage others. Paul argues that the primary purpose of spiritual gifts can’t be lost – they’re not for show, they’re always for the benefit of others. He emphasizes the importance of the gift of prophecy because it can strengthen, encourage, and comfort others (verse 3), while speaking in tongues sometimes only benefits the one speaking the heavenly language (unless there is an interpreter).
“Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church.” (verse 12)
Both gifts are valuable (they were designed by God himself!), yet we must never allow their purpose to become personal. Paul isn’t reprimanding those with the gift of speaking in tongues (he tells them in verse 5 he wishes they all could speak in tongues) – he is simply reminding them the purpose of spiritual gifts: to build up others.
When spiritual gifts become a way we can glorify ourselves, they immediately stop glorifying God.
“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (verse 33)
Let’s use our gifts, whatever they may be, to build up the church and to grow the church, to create compelling, life-giving environments that welcome people who don’t yet know Jesus. That is how we truly honor God.
Prayer: God, thank you again for all spiritual gifts, the way you’ve designed each of us with a unique purpose to build up the church. I pray we use those gifts to honor you, to strengthen others, and to bring more people closer to you. Amen.
P.S. I know can’t just ignore verse 34. What does Paul mean here when he says “women should be silent during the church meetings”? Is that something that holds true today? A few months ago, I addressed the question about women’s role in the church – you can check it out here if you’re interested.