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Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - The Work of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Part 2) Print E-mail
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I.  Introduction:

 As I stated last week, I want to skip chapter 13 for now and look at 14:1-19 tonight. We will come back next week and look at 12:31-13:13. I am hoping that I can make it through what I need to say quickly so that we can have some time for questions at the end.

Before we dive into the actual verses, let me say a few words about what seems to be going on in Corinth. We noted last week that there seems to be at least two groups in Corinth when it comes to the issue of spiritual gifts. One group is emphasizing certain gifts and their importance and practice, while the other group is opposed to this. Paul is offering correction to both groups. After his chapter on love, Paul addresses two particular gifts in chapter 14: tongues and prophecy. It seems safe to assume that the gift of tongues was being emphasized in Corinth. Paul writes to contrast this gift with the gift of prophecy and focuses his attention on the issue of edification. In other words he is asking this question: ‘Which gift is more edifying to the Church when it gathers corporately?’ Thus, he is not necessarily saying that prophecy is better than tongues in some absolute sense, but simply that it is more edifying for the whole Church when it gathers.1 This is seemingly the point of 14:1-19. Let’s now walk through his argument.

II. Passages:

A. 14:1-5 This chapter begins with the command of Paul that I have mentioned before. He commands the Corinthians (and us) to Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts. Even in the midst of all of these difficulties, Paul still tells us to seek the gifts. Thus, to allow abuse to move us toward disuse is simply not faithful to the message of these chapters. He adds at the end that we are to especially desire to prophesy. Yet, why are we to do this? He goes on to explain.

First, he tells us that we should desire prophecy over tongues in the corporate setting because tongues are spoken to God and no one is able to understand them. Look at verse 2. In that sense, they are mysteries in the Spirit. Since they are unintelligible, they are not to be desired over prophecy.

Second (and this goes with the first point), prophecy is intelligible and is therefore more immediately edifying than tongues. Look at verses 3-4. People can understand prophecies and are therefore encouraged by them. Tongues, by themselves, are simply spoken to God and can only edify the individual. Therefore, prophecy is to be desired over tongues in the corporate setting.

Paul restates his point in verse 5. Look at that verse with me. A couple of things need to be said about this verse. What does Paul mean when he says: I want you all to speak in tongues? Some might conclude from this statement that Paul thinks we all should indeed speak in tongues. Yet, that goes beyond what he actually says. In fact, such an interpretation will not fit for another verse where Paul uses similar language. Look at 7:7. Paul uses the same language here to state his wish that all were single like him. Yet, he admits that we do not all have the same gift from God. So, what then is Paul saying over in 14:5? Carson writes: “The text before us simply means that Paul knows the gift of tongues is from God and is therefore a good gift, and he wants his beloved converts to enjoy as many good things as possible.”2 Yet, due to its ability to edify the gathered Church, Paul once again favors prophecy over tongues. He does note, however, that tongues can edify when an interpreter is present, which prepares us for the instructions he will give concerning corporate tongues in 14:13-19 and 14:27-28.

B. 14:6-12 Paul has based his argument thus far on the fact that prophecy is more edifying due to its intelligibility. Since it can be understood, it will edify the Church when it gathers. In verses 6-12, he defends the necessity of intelligibility for edification. Look at verse 6. Tongues, by themselves, are not intelligible and will therefore not edify the Church. He gives three practical illustrations of this in verses 7-11. First, he speaks of musical instruments and the fact that they must play something that is intelligible in order for anyone to know what is played. Second, he points out that the bugle, which was used to call soldiers to battle, will not be effective if it makes an indistinct sound. He draws his conclusion in verse 9. Look at that with me. Tongues will not edify because they are not intelligible. His third illustration is that of human languages. He is simply pointing out that even if a person is speaking a human language that has real meaning, if others do not know the language, then no message will be communicated. He draws the connection between intelligibility and edification in verse 12. Look at that with me. Since they desire spiritual gifts, they should desire to use them in a way that edifies the whole Church when it is gathered. So then, if tongues by themselves cannot edify the Church, what is to be done with this gift? Paul goes on to answer that question.

C. 14:13-19 Since intelligibility is necessary for edification and tongues are only intelligible when an interpretation is offered, Paul concludes: Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. Here, Paul seems to be talking about the actual tongues speaker interpreting what is said, while in other places the interpreter is someone else (see 14:27-28). Paul builds upon this idea throughout verses 14-19. Let me discuss this by breaking it up into three sections, each with two verses.

First, look at verses 14-15. I have struggled in trying to understand these verses. Only after reading Carson a few times did I understand his interpretation, so let me try and outline it here.3 He sees verse 14 as still referring to the fact that prayers offered in a tongue will not be edifying to others because it is not done with the mind. Yes, the spirit is involved but the mind is unfruitful, and no one is encouraged but the one praying. What is to be done then? Paul goes on to say that a person should pray with both the spirit and the mind in the corporate setting. This interpretation fits well with Paul said in verse 13. Instead of just praying with the spirit (in a tongue), a person should pray with their mind as well (through interpretation). The same should be true of singing as well.

Second, look at verses 16-17. These verses, along with verse 13, seem to support the above interpretation as argued by Carson. Once again the issue of edification is brought up. If a person only prays/sings in the spirit and not with the mind, then how are others to be encouraged? The term outsiders in the ESV is a reference to other believers present who may not possess certain gifts (see ESV note), otherwise, why would they want to say Amen when the thanksgiving is offered? If there is no use of the mind, or no interpretation offered, then this person will not be edified.

Finally, look at verses 18-19. We must ask an important question: where is Paul speaking in tongues more than them, if he is not doing it in the Church gathering? The only other option we have is that he is speaking tongues in private. Thus, this verse confirms what has been called ‘private prayer languages.’ Apparently, Paul prayed in this way more than anybody at Corinth, which, in context, means he did this regularly. Carson notes on these verses: “There is no stronger defense of the private use of tongues, and attempts to avoid this conclusion turn out on inspection to be remarkably flimsy.”4 Does this mean that all will speak in tongues privately? I still think the answer to that question is no based on 12:30. Some might want to argue that 12:30 only refers to the public gifting, but I do not see such a distinction in the text. The main difference for Paul between public speaking in tongues and private speaking in tongues is two-fold. First, public speaking in tongues must be accompanied by interpretation in order to make it intelligible. Second, Paul practiced private tongues way more frequently than he did public tongues. Look again at verse 19. The ratio (five words to ten thousand words) seems to indicate that Paul very rarely, if ever, spoke in tongues in public. Carson says this extreme ratio “is a way of saying that under virtually no circumstances will he ever speak in tongues in church, without quite ruling out the possibility.”5 Such a statement should give us caution concerning the frequency of tongues being spoken in church. He does not forbid it, but he does caution us against overuse, which was seemingly the problem, or at least one of the problems, in Corinth. When you couple this with what he says in 14:27-28, I think we can conclude that Paul limits the use of tongues in the corporate gathering without forbidding it.

III. Conclusion:

Once again, the main point that Paul is making in these verses is that prophecy is to be desired over tongues in the corporate meeting of the Church due to the fact that it is intelligible and therefore edifying. Whatever we do in our corporate worship, it needs to be intelligible so that others may be encouraged. Such truth should guide how a local group of believers handles the gifts in their corporate gatherings. May it indeed guide us. Amen.

1 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), p. 100-101.
2 Ibid., p.102.
3 Ibid., p. 103-106.
4 Ibid., p. 105.
5 Ibid., p. 105.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 23 May 2009 )

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